Thursday, 2/23/12

LAT 6:53 (Neville) 
NYT 5:38 (joon—paper) 
CS 5:09 (Sam) 
Fireball 8:53 (Matt) 
BEQ untimed (Matt) 
Celebrity 3:17 (Jeffrey -paper) 

Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword—joon’s review

so, the theme is 46-across: AROUND, the {Word needed to be added to 12 appropriately placed answers in this puzzle for their clues to make sense}. what are these 12 words? well, for the second consecutive thursday, they’re all the words AROUND the edges of the grid:

  • {Pass quickly, as on a highway} SHOOT.
  • {Rummage} ROOT.
  • {Treat badly} JERK.
  • {Wander aimlessly} KNOCK.
  • {Not be serious} FOOL.
  • {Search here and there} POKE.
  • {Act rowdily} HORSE.
  • {Waste time} MESS.
  • {Bandy, as ideas} KICK.
  • {Linger} STICK.
  • {Change one’s opinion} COME.
  • {Get many price quotes} SHOP.

that’s 13 short theme answers. i think it’s very well done—there’s no garbage fill (in stark contrast to the perimeter-themed puzzle from a week ago), and no eyesore cheater squares to make it work. theme answers intersect each other in all four corners, and it just works (it’s nice that there are even a couple of K’s involved). since AROUND is even length, it can’t be placed in the center of the grid, so it’s just sort of near the middle, asymmetrically placed (its mirror partner, REHABS, is non-thematic). that’s the only part that didn’t really sit well with me: when i figured out (relatively early on) what was missing from this puzzle, i was expecting AROUND to appear, but maybe with some more raison d’être, like I GET AROUND clued as {Beach Boys hit … and what 12 appropriately placed answers in this puzzle might say in order for their clues to make sense}. or something, you know? as it is, i’m kind of left wondering… why AROUND?

the fill was all short stuff (no answers longer than 8 letters), and the price we pay for it all being clean is that there’s very little pizzazz. the two 8s were nice (RAP SHEET and KINGPINS), but the 7s were mostly dull (with one prominent exception: PHYSICS!). now, that’s fine with me on a thursday if the clues can hold my interest. they sort of did, but this puzzle felt like it could have used some cleverer cluing. as it is, i’m not really sure why it took me so long, since much of the cluing is straightforward and i did work out the gimmick pretty early. i ran into a bit of trouble in the upper-middle area where i had the ugly partial TO AN for {Comparison connector} instead of THAN, leading me to wonder why {Title accompanier: Abbr.} was AUTO. but that was the only real holdup. maybe i’m just tired. i guess there were a handful of tough clues, but they were tough through vagueness rather than trickery. to wit:

  • {Heals, in a way} is REHABS, this time.
  • {Storage unit} is a MEGABIT. i had BIT from the crosses and needed yet more crosses to figure out which prefix went with it. by the way, this is not a lovely word. once you are dealing with more than a few bits, you are overwhelmingly likely to be talking about bytes instead (one byte = 8 bits).
  • {One of two in Monopoly} is not a utility or a dark blue property, but merely a DIE.
  • {Music genre} is SOUL. see what i’m getting at? these clues aren’t easy because there are plenty of possible correct answers, but it’s not much fun uncovering which one.
  • {Gives away, in a way} is TELLS ON.
  • {Senator’s home} is OTTAWA. okay, maybe that one was a little tricky, but i’m onto it, because i filled it in with no crossings. and yes, i was thinking of the hockey team, not the canadian legislative body.
  • {Less sophisticated, in a way} is CORNIER? i … guess. there doesn’t seem like a strong connection between clue and answer to me.

3.5 stars. it’s an ambitious theme, and we’ve seen from last week that it’s no mean feat keeping the fill clean on a grid like this. but there wasn’t much joy to be had in the solving (PHYSICS excepted). edit: i changed my mind. 4 stars.

Rich Mausser’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Neville’s review

Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle solution, 2 23 12

Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle solution, 2 23 12

Pack your bags – we’re going on a road trip.

  • 16a. [Joint Chevrolet/Kia vacation package?] – VENTURE TO SEDONA
  • 23a. [Joint GMC/Hyundai vacation package?] – SAFARI TO SANTA FE
  • 41a. [Joint Ford/Chrysler vacation package?] – ESCAPE TO NEWPORT
  • 56a. [Joint Dodge/Toyota vacation package?] – JOURNEY TO TACOMA

Yep – match the make with the model. It’s clever, but there’s not much to say. My favorite part of this puzzle is the dichotomy between the symmetric HOT PLATE and POPSICLE. Please don’t mistake that for disdain for the repeated on in (the other symmetric pair of) STEPS ON IT and PUT A BID ON. And we’ve got supporting Supreme Court names with ELENA and ALITO, though we see both of them a lot.

I do have to DEDUCT a few points for the “A” entry repitition: -A-RONI, -A-BOO and A JAM. Not my favorite fill there. I really think this puzzle got through on a cute theme, but the fill just isn’t what I would hope for in a Thursday puzzle. ERATO, ONE L, E.A.P., P.S.I., SONE, UTIL., etc. – I’m just not feeling it today.

Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Celebrity Crossword “Top 40 Thursday” – Jeffrey’s Review

Celebrity crossword solution Feb 23 2012

Theme:  23A & 38A. [Former Destiny’s Child singer married to Jay-Z] – BEYONCÉ KNOWLES

Other theme answers:

  • 18A.[BEYONCÉ KNOWLES’ first #1 solo single: 3 wds.] – CRAZY IN LOVE
  • 44A.[2008 hit song by BEYONCÉ KNOWLES] – IF I WERE A BOY
  • 6D. [BEYONCÉ KNOWLES’ second studio album, released in 2006] – B’DAY
  • 44D (Yesterday).[2009 Beyoncé tune] – HALO

Other stuff:

  • 6A. [Symbol on Christian Bale’s “Dark Knight” costume] – BAT. If this were a Doug P. puzzle the clue would be: [Symbol on Christian Bale’s “Dark Knight” costume]
  • 14A.[Valerie Bertinelli ex Eddie ___ Halen] – VAN. Why Valerie married him in 1981 I’ll never understand. Didn’t she know I was single at the time?
  • 28D.[“Up ___ Night” (Christina Applegate sitcom that premiered in 2011)] – ALL. Maybe she’ll present the awards at the ACPT. She does love her crosswords.
  • 47D.[John Travolta’s role in “Hairspray“} – EDNA

*** stars

Updated Thursday morning:

Tony Orbach’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Island Shopping” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, February 23

Tony Orbach’s back with an around-the-world shopping spree. The puzzle features four articles of clothing that start with the names of notable islands:

  • 17-Across: [Island wear purchased in the Tyrrhenian?] is CAPRI PANTS. Only on Wikipedia can you find a paragraph like this one describing the popularity of clam diggers: “Capris’ acceptance in the United States was influenced by the 1960s television series The Dick Van Dyke Show. The character of Laura Petrie, the young housewife played by Mary Tyler Moore, caused a fashion sensation – and some mild controversy – by wearing snug-fitting capri pants during the show’s run. After a drop in popularity during the 1970s through the 1990s capris returned to favor during the 2000s. Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal wore capris in the majority of his matches before 2009.”
  • 24-Across: A HAWAIIAN SHIRT would be [Island wear purchased in the Pacific?]. A few years ago I spoke at a conference in Maui (it’s a rough life, I tell you). I was told that “Aloha attire” was the dress code. I learned that meant a Hawaiian shirt and slacks. I didn’t have one, though, so the conference organizer asked me for my size. When I got to the island, I had a very nice Hawaiian shirt waiting for me. I have been back to Hawaii a couple of times since then for more conferences, and the Hawaiian shirt goes with me each time. I wish Aloha attire would catch on in other warm-weather locations.
  • 51-Across: [Island wear purchased in the Atlantic?] is BERMUDA SHORTS. Here’s another great nugget from Wikipedia: “They are so-named because of their popularity in Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory, where they are considered appropriate business attire for men when made of suit-like material and worn with knee-length socks, a dress shirt, tie, and blazer. In addition, many businesses in the West that have a business casual policy similarly allow this kind of clothing in appropriate weather.” Um, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bermuda shorts paired with a shirt, tie, and blazer for a Casual Friday. Did you notice that, in an article about clothing, our correspondent points out that Bermuda is a “British Overseas Territory” (objection: relevance) and that this bizarre wardrobe ensemble is allowed by “many businesses in the West?” I have an idea as to where our correspondent is based.
  • 61-Across: CUBAN HEELS would be [Island wear purchased in the Caribbean?]. I’m not familiar with Cuban heels. From what I can find online, it appears to be high-heeled shoe for men (well, a higher heel than the no-inch heels most men wear, anyway). I know better than to try that. I have a hard enough time in flats.

There are some great entries sprinkled around the grid, notably TAP WATER, RAP SHEETS, LOST STEAM, and IVANHOE. Given the grid’s dearth of rare letters (no representatives from the nations of J, Q, X, or Z and a single appearance from each of K and V), it has a surprisingly fresh feel. Our calendars get all switched around with SHEBAT, the [Month before Adar], coming before ENERO, the [Spanish year starter]. Foreign leaders like the SHAH and an EMIR also grace us with their presence (presences-es-es?).

My favorite clue was [Bathroom cleaner?] for BIDET. Crosswords are indeed a fountain of knowledge.

Randall Hartman’s Fireball crossword, “License to Kill”—Matt Gaffney’s review

Fireball answers, 2 23 12

It took me 8:53 to solve this puzzle and then another 15 (!) to grok the theme.  The theme entries were:

  • 17-a. [Like some shots] is WIDE-ANGLE.
  • 23-a. [Community leader, perhaps] is VILLAGE ELDER.
  • 37-a. [Club’s bigger relative] is a DAGWOOD SANDWICH.
  • 45-a. [Baltimore Sun journalist on Nixon’s Enemies List] is THOMAS O’NEILL.

And then at 57-a. we have [007 (and a hint to 17-, 23-, 37-, and 45-Across)] which of course clues JAMES BOND. So what ties them all together? Took me a long time to see it, but then the four JAMESes emerged from the page like the dolphin (or rainbow or whatever) from a Magic Eye puzzle: James DEAN hides in WIDE-ANGLE, playwright James AGEE conceals himself inVILLAGE ELDER, actor James WOODS is in DAGWOOD SANDWICH, and actor James MASON can be located hanging out in THOMAS O’NEILL.

Six observations:

  1. I like that Randall/Peter left the theme semi-unexplained in the revealer clue. They could have made the hidden bond between these four JAMESes much more obvious, but instead chose to keep it subtle, delaying and enhancing the aha moment when it arrived. Well played.
  2. I say “Randall/Peter” instead of just “Randall” because Peter is more involved in Fireball puzzles (and New York Sun puzzles, when they were around from 2002-08) than any editor I’ve ever worked with.  He comes perilously close to deserving a co-author credit on many of these puzzles. I mean no disrespect to Fireball constructors by this; I wrote my first Fireball last year and, even having known ahead of time how much input Peter puts into them, I was still impressed at how he strove to maximize the potential of my (our?) crossword.  Should Will Shortz ever retire, the Times will have a simple decision on his successor.
  3. So many good clues here, and I don’t know which were Randall’s and which were Peter’s. Two of the best are [Pork place?] for STY at 20-a. and [A la king?] for REGAL at 6-d.
  4. I’d never hear of the Baltimore Sun journalist THOMAS O’NEILL. I’m assuming they didn’t go with former House speaker Tip O’Neill, whose first name was Thomas, because he was known as either “Tip O’Neill” or “Thomas P. O’Neill” if I recall correctly. But at least the first and last names are both familiar so it was guessable.
  5. Bumping it up .2 stars for the 5×5 blocks in the SW and NE.  Both are 100% clean.
  6. OK, one more good clue: [Child actress?] for STREEP at 9-d.

4.279 stars.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Celebrity Couples”—Matt Gaffney’s review

BEQ 2 23 answers

Snappy theme from Brendan today: the title “Celebrity Couples” are same-letter initials, which Brendan extends to make goofy phrases:

  • 20-a. [Unleash “anyone lived in a pretty how town” poet?] is FREE E.E. CUMMINGS. I’m not lowercasing it since it’s a grid entry.
  • 38-a. [Include discreetly a Yankees ace on an e-mail?] is BCC CC SABATHIA. He’s a lock for Cooperstown, so include him on that e-mail.
  • 58-a. [Move more units than “Going Back to Cali” rapper?] is OUTSELL L.L. COOL J. I bet I could outsell him on the crossword book shelf.

Five observations:

  1. I like the theme. OK, so BCC isn’t a word like FREE and OUTSELL, but let’s not become so sticklerish that we lose our sense of what’s fun. That’s my inner Merl Reagle talking.
  2. Star clue and fill: [You might find it after moving the couch] for FENG SHUI at 11-d.
  3. More good fill: ZZ TOPI CALLCHIN UPSEAGULL. The top  left corner is elegant.
  4. Brendan snuck his wife’s name into the grid. Isn’t that sweet?  42-d.
  5. I like when a constructor puts obvious effort into finding a good clue for a well-worn entry. 62-d. is a good example: [Book whose last chapter of Part I is titled “Jermin Serves Us a Good Turn–Friendships in Polynesia”] for OMOO.

Thanks for the puzzle, BEQ! 4.31 stars.

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19 Responses to Thursday, 2/23/12

  1. john farmer says:

    Interesting to see theme answers all around the grid again. Nice execution and not bad fill. I had a similar thought on the MEGABIT clue. It’s more a data rate unit than a storage unit. T1s, DSL, Ethernet are usually measured in megabits per second (mbps). And BREEDER gets a safer clue than it might have in another puzzle. Will likely has hit his quota for letters to the editor this month anyway.

  2. ArtLvr says:

    I liked the NYT a whole lot — especially since the theme answers “mostly” don’t make sense without “around”. I would have guessed POKE around for 6A except I already had it at 61D, so it turned out to be ROOT, and one of those few that can mean the same with a different add-on — like ROOT through a messy drawer…. I also like the rhymes SHOOT/ROOT, STICK/KICK, plus PLANK/CRANK, POKE/COKE, OWES/NOS, OLMEC/ORECK and HIGH/DIE. Then there’s the ANGELIC RELIC and ET TU, HINDU? Can you also rhyme NOHOW, ISAO? Never mind, I get a bit giddy in the wee hours!

  3. Gareth says:

    NYT: Yup, I agree – a really clever theme idea, and the lack of garbage is to be admired. “7s were mostly dull” – well, BREEDER could have been clued less dully. However, there would have been letters I imagine… (I wrote this after reading Joon’s post, but before reading @John_Farmer – two of us on the same wavelength!)

    LAT was indeed clever, slightly tricky for me in that US models are often not sold here (and vice versa – a Venture is a Toyota model here!) Ironically SEDONAs are sold here, but that was where I tied myself in knots! SONOMA/SODOMA/SODONA, etc.

  4. Loren Smith says:

    Enjoyed the NYT! Great theme answers, and any puzzle with SLOPS, JERK, and POKE in it is ok by me.

    Daniel – your comment last night was too funny! Along the same lines, when I was in my freshman year in high school, my French teacher told us it was probably too early for us to have a dictionary. Being the class sychophant, brown noser and general suck-up, I bought one anyway and had it proudly displayed on my desk. The guy next to me snatched it up and said, “You’ve probably memorized the whole thing, right?” Then he opened it and, miracle of miracles, chose the one word I had glanced at. “What does ‘aboyer’ mean?” When I answered “bark,” I launched my Best French Student in the Universe career.

  5. Loren Smith says:

    Mom just pointed out that it’s sycophant. Oops. Serves me right after complaining about “judgement!”

  6. HH says:

    From yesterday’s writeup — “{“Tales of the City” author Armistead} MAUPIN. i have this vague memory from a year or two ago of some very clever wordplay puzzle involving armistead maupin’s name, but i can no longer remember the details.”

    Anagram — Armistead Maupin / is a man I dreamt up.

  7. Jeff Chen says:

    Given my propensity for fifth-grade humor, I not surprisingly submitted a more risque clue for BREEDER. Ahem. Probably a good thing for Will to avoid more publicity like from last week!

    I think it was Julian that commented last week about the difficulty of constructing a grid with perimeter answers. I started this one nearly three years ago, and lost track of revision numbers at twenty or so. It was a great challenge, but I don’t know that I’ll tackle another one like this!

    I just got my tickets to go to the ACPT! Hope to see some of you there. Especially to see if I can uncover the great Jeffrey-Gareth wave-particle duality.

    jeffchen1972 at gmail dot com

  8. Jan says:

    I thought the NYT was very clever, and I’m glad I found 46A fairly early on to figure out what was going on. @Jeff Chen – after your remarks, I’m even more impressed with the themes-around-the-edge construction. @joon – I ran into the same snag you did with THAN, but I’m sure you untangled yourself a lot quicker than I did – I ran through AS TO, IS AS and a few nonwords. I guess that’s what keeps me coming back to do more puzzles – getting better at the challenge of tough or nonspecific clues.

  9. Gareth says:

    Simple, elegant CS theme. All tied up in a bow. Tap Water, imo, is my clue of the week. I may be biased as I consider the sale of bottled water in countries with a safe water supply, like South Africa, to be one of the great marketing con jobs. On a par with fat free sweets made of pure sucrose

  10. Howard B says:

    Jeff, very clever theme, with the implicit descriptiveness of the AROUND theme. I liked the themeless feel of the grid, yet working my way to each border to find each theme answer. Some tough cluing in there made it a crunchier solve.
    Edit: I realized how many times I said “theme”, but I won’t change it now. I’m tired. Theme, theme, theme. There we go.

  11. Matthew G. says:

    @Jeff Chen: Great puzzle today.

    Does the ACPT mail out actual physical tickets? This will be my first year going, and I haven’t received any, though I’ve paid. Or were you speaking abstractly?

  12. joon says:

    matthew, i assume he was referring to plane tickets. if i remember correctly, jeff lives in seattle.

    also, after sleeping on it, i’ve decided to upgrade my rating of this puzzle to 4 stars. the placement of the theme answers at the edge of the grid is sufficient justification for the AROUND theme. also, some of the (implied) theme phrases, like COME AROUND and KICK AROUND, are quite lively, and my review of the puzzle didn’t give enough credit for that.

  13. Jeffrey says:

    Yes Jeff lives on the West Coast. Wait, so do I. Perhaps I’m also Jeff Chen. I look forward to discovering all of my identities at the ACPT. I’d also like to meet Crosscan.

  14. Jeff Chen says:

    @Joon: I knew you’d COME AROUND! I struggled for ages with the clue for PHYSICS, trying to come up with a misleading way to have “subject” read as a verb.

    @myself: Jeffrey is my full name. Coincidence?

    @Matthew G.: The Jeffrey only speaks in abstractions.

  15. laura stuart says:

    Curious as to why Irma showed up in two puzzles on the same day? I notice that this happens sometimes and wonder if puzzle constructors look at each other’s work. Sorry if that is a dumb question. Thanks

  16. Matt Gaffney says:

    Total coincidence, Laura — these puzzles are written, edited and slotted into their days many weeks or months in advance.

  17. Matthew G. says:

    Oh, good. No tickets for me, then. I live in Brooklyn so it’s 30 minutes on the R train to the ACPT.

    I thought the Fireball was entertainingly clued and crisp, but I found it both unusually easy and unusually conventional for a Fireball. I agree with Matt that the subtlety of the revealer is very nice (I hate revealers that whack you over the head with the theme), but the theme itself seemed much lighter than the typical Fireball. Two of the Jameses were unfamiliar to me (WOODS and MASON), and a third (AGEE) I basically only know from crosswords. Finding those BONDS didn’t do too much for me.

  18. Meem says:

    Not only did we have two Irmas today, we also had two rap sheets.

  19. Gareth says:

    @Matt Gaffney: My one puzzle in the CHE suggests Patrick Berry has a pretty similar approach. I sent in a simple 3 part theme and get an email back with an expanded 5 theme entry 68-word puzzle and an empty grid suggesting how it can be done (and an immaculately balanced grid it was!) 3 and out.

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