Thursday, 12/29/11

NYT 4:02 
LAT 6:09 (Neville) 
CS 4:36 (Sam) 
Tausig 7:08 (pannonica) 
BEQ untimed 

Three announcements!

  1. Trip Payne‘s going to create a puzzle extravaganza contest—a dozen puzzles of various types with words and images, plus a final “meta” puzzle—this spring if he gets enough funding via The puzzles will be along the lines of a “special section” in Games World of Puzzles. In other words, nowhere near as tough as the MIT Mystery Hunt puzzles but harder than the occasional NYT op-ed puzzle section crafted by Puzzability. If you want in ($10 minimum pledge), visit the project page at Kickstarter.
  2. The “Top 40 Thursday” Celebrity crossword that came out Wednesday evening on the Crosswords Facebook app was just constructed yesterday by Bob Klahn. The theme could not have existed more than a few days ago, so it’s topical (and no, it’s not a tribute to Kim Jong-Il, I promise you). The Celebrity crossword venue is likely to have more of these on-the-fly puzzles that reference current events. When you hear of a new scandal involving a famous person, don’t be surprised to find a puzzle about it soon thereafter. (Also, you should start solving these fun/easy puzzles, because we’ll be blogging them here soon.)
  3. Remember those puzzles called “Gryptics” by a Canadian puzzlemaker named Les Foeldessy? They’re good training for crossword solvers because they work your ability to make reasoned guesses about what word will fit a given letter pattern, without using crossword clues. Les’s book has been republished by the Sterling imprint Puzzlewright as Next-Generation Crosswords, and he’s giving away a copy in his December contest. I would have told you earlier than December 28 but Les’s note got snagged by the dang spam filter. (Hey, maybe there’ll be a January contest too. Check the homepage in a few days. That homepage tells us Les is releasing an iPad app of his puzzle form in January. Hmm…)

David Steinberg’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 12 29 11 #1229

I like the theme okay, but this puzzle’s fill … it hurt me. It felt like a Greatest Hits of Crosswordese. If that’s the price for a theme with 63 letters in Across answers and 7 more letters in the circled squares, then I want my money back.

The theme is a brainteaser: NAME THE ONE / SEVEN-LETTER WORD / IN ENGLISH THAT / CANNOT BE PUT DOWN / IN SCRABBLE. It’s PIZZAZZ—there’s one Z and two blank tiles in Scrabble, so a four-Z word can’t be played—and it appears counterclockwise in the circled squares that form a really clumsy shape.

The tradeoff for the thematic density is a veritable explosion of unsavory fill. ATIP as [Eagerly expectant]—well, that’s a 4-letter word you can’t play in Scrabble. This entry would actually be improved by cluing it as a partial. OONA—that’s one of the least popular names for baby girls in New York City, the Times reports. Rare baby girl named Oona, please get famous! Don’t make us wait until you’re an adult. LIAO, ODAS, SERT, Sea of AZOV, Rudy VALLEE, ALAE, REO, -EAN, DDE, HOER, NINON, TORA, ADZ, ERN, N-TESTS—wow, they’re all here! They make Pope LEO VII and the York Peppermint PATTIE (I wonder why the candy company went with the “pattie” spelling) look good by comparison.

Anyone else try to figure out the first name of [Columnist Friedrich]? I could only think of Thomas Friedman. Eventually the crossings started to work out ENGELS and I realized it said [Communist Friedrich], not columnist.

The Scowl-o-Meter put off a few sparks while I was working this puzzle and I’m going to have to check the wiring in the morning. Tonight’s puzzle may have burned out some of the wires. 2.5 stars.

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Do’s and Dont’s” — pannonica’s review

Ink Well crossword 12/30/11 • "Do's and Dont's" • Tausig • solution

First of all, punctuation in the title. Shouldn’t it be “Do’s and Don’t’s,” ugly as that is? This is one reason why I’m not in favor of apostrophe’d [sic] plurals.

Moving on, the theme works as one of those before-and-after mush-ups, the first component a hairstyle of dubious aesthetic sensibility.

  • 17a. [The people on “Jersey Shore”?] BLOWOUTCAST (blowout, outcast). A chuckle for the chuckleheads.
  • 27a. [Gust that might make you look like a hipster?] FAUXHAWKWIND (fauxhawk, Hawkwind). Hawkwind, 1970s (look Ma, no apostrophe!) space-prog rock band, associated with science fiction author Michael Moorcock. Need you know more?
  • 47a. [What balding pirates sail?] COMBOVERSEAS (combover, overseas). Stranded!
  • 62a. [Motion that might occur during headbanging?] RATTAILSPIN (rat-tail, tailspin). From oceans to motions.

In each instance, both the first part and second part is a compound word. I don’t perceive any quality or significance shared by all of the ends of the themers, either the full compound (sections two and three) or just the last part (section three). There almost seems to be a nautical affiliation, but I believe it’s coincidental. Anyway, it’s a fun theme.

In light of yesterday’s extended discussion on Roman numerals in crosswords, I feel obligated to mention 28-down, which more than one Fiendreader extolled: [Time at the end of a revolution, when I will be next] for XII. We’re talking about a clock face, the revolution a full circuit of the digits, where one o’clock follows twelve o’clock. Nice misdirection with the I, and a totally legitimate clue. It’s a bit long-winded for a three-letter answer, but that’s a barely legitimate criticism.

For long non-theme fill, there are the offset vertical stacks of OFF-LABEL/FARM TEAMS and CANONICAL/LOW-CLASS. Speaking of apostrophes and plurals, note how critical it is in the clue for FARM TEAMS: [Twins’ feeders]. I appreciate little touches like that (but I don’t want to see fantastical touchés in a puzzle, just for the record).

More apostrophe action, right there at one-across, or at least I prefer to think the application of TAINT [Perineum, slangily] derives from the contracted ’tain’t (as in, it ain’t one orifice or the other) rather than connoting putrefaction or corruption. No, you cannot force me to check The clue is also, as a reliable percentage in these crosswords, a little …erm… rough around the edges. Speaking of which, I wonder why BOFF was clued as the benign [Big Broadway hit] rather than something a little more risqué. In my experience, the theatrical success more often boffo. See also: 12-down. Related material in this paragraph: 67a [They’re often flashed in front of bouncers] IDS and 6d [One might swing] for the innocent GATE.

Some more:

  • 15a & 49d AILES & AISLES.
  • Was unaware of ‘bite[s]’ in the sense of CO-OPT[s] as per 57-across.
  • In crosswordland, people in ski resorts only ever drink hot COCOA, always use a T-BAR to ascend, and may enjoy their chocolaty APRÈS-ski near to an INGLE.
  • 55a [Egyptian Arab Spring activist Ghonim] WAEL. Wikichitlán sayeth, “Wael Ghonim is an Internet activist and computer engineer with an interest in social entrepreneurship. In 2011, he became an international figure and energized pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt after his emotional interview following 11 days of secret incarceration by Egyptian police—during which he was interrogated regarding his work as the administrator of the Facebook page, ‘We are all Khaled Saeed’, which helped spark the revolution.” Not to be confused with Wiseguy Ken WAHL.
  • 41a [Web mag for which Christopher Hitchens wrote] S___: Slate or Salon, SlateorSalon, Salonorslate? SALON! Of course the answer was the other one, SLATE (though he did in fact write for both). Grr.
  • Favorite clues: 36a [Game with yellow and red cards] SOCCER. 61a [After-work option?] is a nice way to revivify the stale IRA. 46a [Character who interviewed Newt Gingrich] is Sasha Baron-Cohen’s ALI G.; ‘character’ is pivotal.
  • Other things I didn’t know: 8d [2011 “American Idol” runner-up Lauren] ALAINA, and the ultra-Scrabbly VYBZ [talented-but-troubled dancehall star Kartel. The crossing with LOLZ [YouTube comment word] stymied me for quite a while, as I tried LIKE, then LOVE, then LOLS before zeroing in on the Z. nb: Not to be confused with talented Fiendish commenting star danchall.
  • Least favorite clue: 39a. [“Here __ Again” (Whitesnake anthem)] for the unlovely partial I GO. First Hawkwind, now Whitesnake? The horror!

I’d give it IIII stars, if I were the type of reviewer to BESTOW (9d) stars.

Ed Sessa’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review

Los Angeles Times Crossword Puzzle Solutions, 12 29 11

Los Angeles Times Crossword Puzzle Solutions, 12 29 11

Do I Hear a Waltz? I do!

  • 17a. [*Fifth amendment right] – DUE PROCESS OF LAW
  • 25a. [*Decorator’s forte] – EYE FOR DETAIL
  • 46a. [*No place in particular] – HERE AND THERE
  • 59a. [*End of an old pasta product jingleUH OH SPAGHETTIOS
  • 66a. [Disney, et al., or, when added to the starts of the starred answers, a 1965 musical (listen!)WALTS

So “due eye here uh walts” sounds just like the musical Do I Hear a Waltz?. At first I didn’t think that this was so neat, but then I thought about it for a moment. First, each of the five words in the title has a proper homonym. Then, the title even has to do with hearing. That’s cooler than I had first thought. Props to Ed Sessa for coming up with this idea. As long-time cruciverbal fans know, not only did Stephen Sondheim write the lyrics for Do I Hear a Waltz?, he’s also an avid puzzler. Someone get him to the ACPT, please.

My flub-up in this puzzle was the (I think) rather reasonable guess of MILNE for the originator of the WILDE quote “I am not young enough to know everything.” It’s those near misses that can burn you, when many of the letters work, so you refuse to change the others. Fortunately I guessed correctly that the [Shasta no.] referred to the mount’s ELEV., not to something like FL. OZ.. Crisis averted.

I like a portmanteau word like SCRUNGE where, even though I’d not heard of it, I can tell it’s some combination of scrubber and sponge. And that’s not the only fun-to-say entry – we’ve got a TWO-FER and ROTGUT. I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the crossing of TOPS OFF and DENSE FOG, both of which were near-end fill-ins for me. This was a fun one for me to end the year blogging on – see you in 2012!

Updated Thursday morning:

Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Nice Abs!” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword December 29

The title of today’s puzzle is a great compliment, even though I hear “Nice keg!” more often than “Nice abs!” We can return the favor by telling Tony Orbach, “Nice puzzle featuring five two-word entries with the initials A.B.,” or, more simply, “Nice A-Bs!” Here are the theme entries:

  • 20-Across: The APPLE BLOSSOM is a [Flower of a certain fruit tree]. I would think [Fruit tree flower] would be a sufficient clue, but maybe there’s more to it than I realize.
  • 31-Across: One [Museum shop purchase] is an ART BOOK. I used to question the appeal of a book containing pictures of what I just saw displayed in the museum until I visited the old art gallery at the Bellagio hotel and casino in Las Vegas. It contained a number of works from Steve Wynn’s private collection and was just spectacular. I happily shelled out the $60-or-so asking price for the official art book on sale in the gift shop.
  • 38-Across: One [Old nickel depiction] is the AMERICAN BUFFALO. America and Canada both have buffalo, but I hear the view from the Canadian side is better. (That’s right, folks–this here’s the only crossword blog featuring Niagara Falls jokes. Roll out the barrels!)
  • 45-Across: A [Pilot’s station] is an AIR BASE. Given the theme of yesterday’s CS puzzle, I kinda wanted this clue to refer to a fort.
  • 55-Across: The [Display platform at Sotheby’s] is an AUCTION BLOCK. Lately I’ve heard the term used to describe neighborhoods with many houses in foreclosure (as in, “the whole block is up for auction”). A sign o’ the times, as Prince would say. I guess you can say the housing crisis is not yet over in this neck of the woods.

Those two seven-letter theme entries evaded me at first–I started to carp that the puzzle had only three theme entries using up only 39 squares. But after a second look, I saw that there were five theme entries using 53 theme squares. So never mind, there’s plenty of thematic content. Move along, people. Nothing to see here.

Maybe part of what had me thinking there were only three theme entries was the remarkably smooth fill (not to mention the abundance of rare letters for added spice). I loved FACELIFT, the [Cosmetic fix] that, conveniently enough, sits symmetrically opposite of the SCULPTOR, the [Builder of bodies?]. Other great entries, in my view, included THE MOB, TEFLON, I’M OUT, the Denver BRONCOS (God’s pick for the Super Bowl, it seems), and [Holmes’s creator], Sir Arthur Conan DOYLE. My personal favorite clue was [___ Bell] for TACO, but that’s just because over the years I have eaten more than my fair share of their bean burritos (just ask my family and friends).

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Sob Story”

BEQ 397 solution

What sort of inventive theme comes to mind for a new papa? The baby’s wailing “Wah!”:

  • 17a. SWAHILI MATTRESS sticks a WAH inside a Sealy mattress.
  • 31a. “Eenie meenie” becomes WAHINE MEANIE.
  • 50a. In lieu of Brendan’s unused PRIMORDIAL WAHOOS (16 letters, one too long!), we get the theme unifier “FER CRYIN’ OUT LOUD,” which my paternal grandma used to say a lot.

Now, how often does a little bit of wordplay get you words like SWAHILI and WAHINE on the flip side? Not often. Nice and fresh. Also fresh: FELA KUTI, “NOW I KNOW,” iMOVIE, LUMIERE (that’s Tony Orbach’s dad Jerry doing the voice of Lumiere, you know—you should hear Tony’s spot-on Lumiere impression), and “I’M ALL OUT.” I like the clue for UNIONS, [Some groups at protests]; it puts me in mind of the huge protests in Madison earlier this year. And sure, most crossword constructors would probably clue FALCO as actress Edie, but Brendan hits my ’80s-teenager sweet spot with that [“Rock Me Amadeus” singer] clue. Not sure about this 26a: [QB nicknamed “The Gunslinger”]; my husband’s a lifelong Packers fans and he hasn’t heard this used to refer to FAVRE.

Four stars.

This entry was posted in Daily Puzzles and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Thursday, 12/29/11

  1. Bruce N. Morton says:

    I haven’t done Thurs. yet, but I just belatedly did the 12/24 Doug Peterson Saturday Stumper. I’m trying to see how the clue for 7d:

    {Principal (sic) of Chinese Philosophy} for “Dualism”

    is anything other than a lapse–(politer word than “blunder.”) Some dualists are principal figures in Chinese philosophy???–No, it doesn’t work. It’s a surprising lapse.

    I haven’t the slightest idea who RL Stine is, but I’ll accept that he went to Ohio State. Is “talced” *really* a word, or more to the point, is “talc” a verb? I suppose there’s support for it somewhere, but it’s weird.

    I’m glad that Bob Klahn’s puzzle is not a tribute to Kim Jong Il. However many years ago it was, the NYT published a tribute puzzle to Michael Jackson, and, I must say, I took offense, and was amazed that I seemed to be completely alone in that sentiment. I sent a private email to WS, but never went public with my complaint. Perhaps it is recent headlines which lead me to make the point publicly now. I trust that we will not see tribute puzzles to Jerry Sandusky and Bernie Fine.


  2. Gareth says:

    I hate the clue “Coastal flier” for ERN. It’s a vague and cutesy clue for a crap answer (“Directional suffix” is IMO the better angle) and yet it appears so often it’s become a kneejerk. I’d agree with Amy’s overall synopsis of 2.5 stars.

    The Tausig was a nice theme, though I found a few areas really tough, largely because of names and one weird x-referenced clue. I’m talking about the top area in general: ALVAR, ALAINA, AILES (I did have that one skulking in the back of my cranium), the nutso VYBZ. I’d also never heard of a style called a BLOWOUT. Favourite clue/answer pair was OFFLABEL, done perfectly IMO. XII (as well as III and VII) are far better fill than other Roman numerals, IMO.

  3. HH says:

    “I trust that we will not see tribute puzzles to Jerry Sandusky and Bernie Fine.”

    Oh, well, there goes that idea.

  4. Howard B says:

    Nice little theme trivia nugget in the Times, but it has been a while since I’ve run into a complete corner (upper-left, here), across and down, in which every single answer was pretty much unknown from the clue. Did not understand the VALLEE reference, and was unfamiliar with the Calif. place name and the other proper name references all squooshed together. That was not a pretty sight. The only break-in was the correct but rather opaque Facile=GLIB. (let’s also not forget about our favorite Pope Leo du jour). OK, I’m done moaning now, carry on :).
    I do like the Scrabbly-themed puzzles though.

    I do recommend the Facebook app, as many puzzles blogged here are available, and the Celebrity ones Amy mentioned, which are smooth, very accessible, fresh and timely.

  5. pannonica says:

    CS: Am unhappy with the clue for 38-across, AMERICAN BUFFALO. As most people nowadays are aware,, “buffalo” is a misnomer for Bison sp. I realize the coin is called a buffalo nickel, but adding the “American” to the name imparts unmerited veracity. This could have been avoided by referencing David Mamet’s 1975 play with that title.

    …All right, I’ve consulted the mighty Wikipedia and there’s an entry titled American Buffalo (coin), indicating that the coin is usually referred to by that name. Nevertheless, I still think my gripe has at least partial validity, as the clue is [Old nickel depiction] (emphasis mine). To my reading, ‘American’ in the name refers to the coin, not the animal. cf: American Eagle coins.

  6. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @HH, you can always make that tribute puzzle gratis (your only reward being the depth of solvers’ horror) and post it at the Island of Lost Puzzles. Why, PEDOPHILIA and SECOND MILE are perfectly matched 10s.

    Gareth mentioned BLOWOUT. I had the same “That’s a hairstyle?” reaction when I test-solved the puzzle. I know that some women get a blowout (i.e., have their hair blow-dried to straighten and smooth it out), but apparently the male New Jersey BLOWOUT referenced here is a specific and patently ridiculous style for men: It reminds me of the Heat Miser’s upswept hairdo, only shorter and shinier.

  7. pannonica says:

    Be thankful I didn’t link to the gallery of atrocious hairstyles that I found while reviewing the puzzle. Research! Recherché!

  8. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I do thank you for that, Pannonica. And I’m not clicking your link! My eyeballs are still feeling a little singed by the blow dryer in the video I linked.

  9. pannonica says:

    My links are mostly harmless, and are almost never videos. That one even has a title when you hover over it.

  10. Bruce N. Morton says:

    I liked today’s puzzle just fine. For one thing I was actually curious to scan the circled squares for the answer. Generally, (with exceptions), I don’t much like puzzles with circles–I usually just find them annoying. But I’m surprised at the lukewarm to negative reaction to this one.

    I would try to think of another word, but especially with computer assistance, it’s probably pretty easy to scan the Scrabble OWL and verify the claim.


  11. KarmaSartre says:

    I’ve had it with all the LA Ram Quarterback answers. No more Roman Gabriels!

  12. John Haber says:

    Funny, but I’d have guessed that Engels would be a gimme for almost everyone. I may be a little more political than some, but I’m hardly a communist and can’t tell you how often I’d heard “Marx and Engels” even before back in college taking a course on Russia that meant buying “The Marx/Engels Reader.”

    Anyhow, I don’t know much about Scrabble, but I guess the theme is nice enough. I agree that it meant an awful lot of three-letter words and crosswordese. It also left me with one I couldn’t guess right: the crossing of EL MONTE and NINON, and I didn’t care for that. Too Maleska by far. LIAO didn’t look right, and ATIP doesn’t sound right for that definition, but I’ll take it.

  13. Dave G. says:

    The NYT ranks even lower in my book. In addition to crosswordese the NW has 1-2-3 DOWN proper names crossed by three other proper names (a pope, a small LA suburb, and a heroine from a Wagner opera, no less). I personally like CrossWORD puzzles, not CrossNAME puzzles.

  14. Tony O. says:

    Hey gang,

    Just so you know, I considered (and, frankly, would also have preferred) the Mamet reference for AMERICANBUFFALO but thought it might skew toward the obscure for our solvers so went with the coin – which is fodder for a whole other controversy if we were to look at the flip side and call it an “Indian Head” nickel!

    Sam, I’m working on thinning my keg – I’m a ways away from being confused for a hard body, but I can live vicariously through my puzzle titles!

    Happy New Year!

  15. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Well, it just shows–one man’s meat, etc. Any puz. free of the the three R’s (Rock Groups, Rappers and Reality shows) gets a big bonus in rating from me, and 1a, 1d, 3d and 17a were total gimmes for me, plus the ubiquitous Leo, so it never occurred to me to have a second thought about the NW.


  16. joon says:

    i learned that a BLOWOUT was a hair thing from watching tuesday’s jeopardy (fairly hilarious neg on that clue, by the way—waiting for the hairdresser, $800). sadly, i did ben’s puzzle before watching the episode, and most of the theme was lost on me. nice SOCCER clue, though.

  17. pannonica says:

    No air-kiss for the BEQ?

  18. Jeffrey says:

    Ooh, I so want to hear Tony’s Lumiere. Be Our Guest!

  19. J. T. Williams says:

    Hmmm…. are do and due really considered homonyms?

  20. Tuning Spork says:

    Thanks for that link, Joon. I just spent about an hour going through past episodes.

  21. Jamie says:

    I thought a blow-out was something that could only appear in an Onion crossword.

  22. Jamie says:

    @KarmeSatre: I saw what you did there. I look forward to becoming a meme.

    @Joon: The clue/gentle laughter at wrong answer you linked to is so funny.

Comments are closed.