CS 6:08 (Sam)
Happy bloggiversary to me! Diary of a Crossword Fiend began on this date in 2005. Only one person knows how many puzzles I’ve reviewed since then, and it isn’t me. (Jeffrey keeps spreadsheets of such things. Ask him.) Many thanks to the entire Crossword Fiend team who help keep this joint running every day, and to the commentariat—for my money, the smartest and most genial such group any blog can lay claim to.
Susan Gelfand’s New York Times crossword
This is one of those puzzles in which there’s a key word that compounds with the words in the theme answers and, as has become de rigueur in such puzzles in recent years, both halves of each theme answer come into play, not just one. PLAYING WITH FIRE describes what those halves are doing here: MANPOWER yields fireman and firepower; STONEWALL, Firestone and firewall; BIRDHOUSE (you know the They Might Be Giants song, “Birdhouse in Your Soul”?), Pontiac Firebird and firehouse; and my favorite, ANTEATER, fire ant and fire-eater. (What is it about the anteater, sloth, and armadillo that groups them together in my mind as intoxicating oddities, pannonica?)
Things I liked: The THROWN/THRONE homophone pair, [Moe, Larry and Curly, ethnically] as a clue for JEWS, the HANKIE spelling (which I prefer to hanky), tasty GELATO. I liked the clues for SAW and SNAIL, even if the latter clue did trick me into putting down SNAKE and racking my brain to figure out what the snake’s one foot was.
Anyone else get stuck in the lower right for a bit when FRENCH wouldn’t work out for 61a: [Like the Best Picture of 2011]? I knew it was The Artist, which is also (largely) SILENT.
My two least favorite entries are ones I didn’t see until after the puzzle was finished. We’ve got an awkward plural OEDS at 71a, [Ref. works sometimes sold with magnifying glasses]. I’m surprised to see that the Compact OED is still available, but the entire OED is a single reference work no matter how many copies you’re talking about. “Two copies of the OED” works better for me than “two OEDs.” And then there’s 14a: OMER, [Counting of the __ (observance after Passover)]. I’ve seen the entry a few times before, but I’ve not seen the word outside of crosswords (having never observed Pesach nor the observances thereafter). Other answers I didn’t care for include PENTA and ARPELS (both crossing OMER and the latter being a proper name, ergo a rough crossing for many a non-jewelry-loving gentile), ILA, SOYA, THRO, the LETHE/SNERD/OTROS combo, and less familiar names like KELSO, OSSA, and EWELL.
My general cutoff point for names (people, places, brand names—proper nouns in general) in a daily-sized puzzle is 14: Stay below that cutoff and not too many solvers will gripe about the name count. Go above and even people who like names in their crossword will notice the surfeit. Let’s see what today’s puzzle holds: NAPA, OMER, AZTECS, MARAT, IRAQ, BAJA, OSSA, ORTHO, k.d. LANG, KELSO, OEDS, ARPELS, JEWS, ATHENA, I.R.T., EWELL, POM, I.L.A., T.S.A., LETHE, SNERD. Aha! It’s 21, or 18 if you knock out the three-letter abbrevs. People, if you’re working on a crossword of your own and you wonder if you’ve got too many propers, count them up; if you pass 14, strip some of them out even if it means losing some Scrabbly letters. Your solvers will thank you.
Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “After the Separation” – Sam Donaldson’s review
Ross takes five words beginning with EX and re-imagines them as though they were two-word expressions with the first word being EX (as in a former flame):
- 18-Across: An ordinary “exposition,” or fair, becomes an EX POSITION, the [Point of view of an old flame?]. I tried to fit UNREASONABLE into the grid but I needed two more squares.
- 24-Across: You don’t see the plural form of “extradition” very often, but here it’s re-tooled into EX TRADITIONS, the [Customs of an old flame?]. My first instinct here was LEAVING THE CABINET DOORS OPEN, but even I knew that wouldn’t fit.
- 39-Across: Those who defy a church risk “excommunication,” but an [Email from an old flame?] is an EX COMMUNICATION.
- 51-Across: [One who fired an old flame?] is an EX TERMINATOR, not an “exterminator” who takes care of the other vermin in your life.
- 62-Across: I heard on NPR last night that thieves are breaking into salons to steal hair “extensions.” Here, they become EX TENSIONS, the [Stressful feelings about an old flame]. But who has stressful feelings about an old flame?
I’m a sucker for these “re-imagine a common word or phrase” themes, so this one found my sweet spot. (Yes, I edited that metaphor to make it a little less risque.) The theme introduces five Xs into the grid, but all of the X crossings look great. I especially liked KIX, the breakfast cereal I got to eat as a kid. (Anyone else notice AXLE directly atop AXEL? I love that kind of faux-rebellious swagger.)
If I fawn too much over this puzzle I could lose blogging privileges. So let me pick three nits, in increasing order of magnitude: (1) ORDERERS is a seductive term for a constructor (it lacks rare letters, so filling the surrounding white spaces is much easier), but it probably feels strained even to beginning solvers; (2) when I find myself in times of trouble, crossword editors say to me, “You can use any answer, except LEFT BE” (the answer to [Didn’t bother with] just has to be LET BE, no?); and (3) I’m sorry, but you won’t find a TAMALE on the menu at Taco Bell, so [Hot item at Taco Bell] is plainly inaccurate
Favorite entry = BUTTS OUT, clued as [Minds one’s own beeswax]. Favorite clue = [Maker of Kool-Aid] for KRAFT. I didn’t know that, and learning fun little tidbits like this is part of the joy of solving.
Bruce Sutphin and Doug Peterson’s Los Angeles Times crossword
Spoiler alert! The whole theme is shocking revelations at the ends of four movies. Chances are you’ve heard them all already. Oh, and in The Crying Game? That one lady’s a dude. Or, as we would say in these more sensitive times, the character you think is female is a MTF (male-to-female) transsexual. Haven’t seen the movie, but I’m betting the character is no mere cross-dresser. Anyway! This puzzle tells us about these twists:
- 17a. [“Soylent Green” shocker], IT’S MADE OF PEOPLE. Sorry if you’ve been eating Soylent Green all this time and enjoying it, but you’re a cannibal now. Also? Not that I’ve seen this movie, but between this twist and Planet of the Apes, doesn’t Charlton Heston have the category of Best Actor for Revealing a Shocking Twist sewn up?
- 28a. [“The Sixth Sense” shocker], HE’S ALREADY DEAD. This is not the lugubrious “I’m already dead” of Barney Gumble in that faux documentary in that one Simpsons episode, but the startling discovery that shrink Bruce Willis is a ghost.
- 46a. [“Psycho” shocker], NORMAN IN A DRESS. Mr. Bates donned a wig and his mama’s dress, and thus was not really conferring with her on anything.
- 61a. [“The Empire Strikes Back” shocker], LUKE IS VADER’S SON. Would read better with “Darth” in there too, but the daily puzzle grid is only so wide.
The fun, fresh theme is complemented by fun, fresh clues. A few examples:
- 14a. [Sooner than thou thinketh], ANON.
- 67a. [Meas. of how high you are], ELEV. This is not about drugs.
- 24d. [The “A.” on many a patent], ALVA. Lame crosswordese name answer, but good clue. Alva is Thomas A. Edison’s middle name.
- 30d. [Former pen pal?], EX-CON. I’ll grant you the “pal” part doesn’t directly correspond to the answer, but the clue’s cute.
Best fill: I’M THERE, SHOULDA, HIP TO, LET’S SEE, EX-CON (much more in the language than EX-GI, which is in too many puzzles). I’m also fond of the words VEX and CHASM, in or out of crosswords.
Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “GQ Poseurs”
In the theme answers, we’ve got some G’s now posing as Q’s:
- 20a. [Worked hard on a mathematical proof?], EARNED YOUR QED. Cute.
- 26a. [Leading figure on a long journey?], QUEST STAR
- 47a. [Voyage to see the world’s great bedcovers?], QUILT TRIP. Constructor Liz Gorski took one of those last year, to see the Red & White Quilt Show. Granted, she probably just had to hop on the subway so it wasn’t a big journey.
- 52a. [Marketer’s popularity quotient for Limburger?], CHEESE Q-RATING. Two remarks: One, “cheese grating” is fairly limp as base phrases go. Two, I keep reading “Limburger” as “Limbaugh.”
Highlights in the fill: BURQINI. FUCHSIA, which is easy to spell if you remember that the color and flower are named after a guy called Fuchs (“fooks”) and not Fusch; I don’t know who decided not to pronounce it “fook-see-uh.” ALISON, one of my favorite songs, by Elvis Costello, crossing the middle name of the other Elvis. OCTUPLET and ORIGAMI, so much better than little O words that populate crosswords, like OREO OPE ORE OARED OPAH. “GOOD GOD!” evoking for me what Trip Payne exclaimed when he figured out a gnarly piece of fill in an ACPT finals puzzle.
Tyler Hinman’s Onion A.V. Club crossword
It’s weird. You’d think the blog would know it was my bloggiversary and that I had already blogged upwards of 9,000 puzzles and thus it would blog today’s puzzles for me. But no. There is no rest for the weary, the wicked, the wordy.
Tyler “The Hin” Man, as approximately zero people call him, has made a theme out of other people whose surnames are [actual word + MAN]:
- 17a. [He should have starred in “The Deer Hunter”], PHIL HARTMAN. A male deer is a hart or stag or buck, but there haven’t been any famous actors named Stagman or Buckman so the hilarious Phil H. gets cast here.
- 25a. [He should have starred in “The Cable Guy”], HUGH JACKMAN. Gotta hook up the cable jacks.
- 36a. [He should have starred in “The Shawshank Redemp …” wait …], MORGAN FREEMAN. Does Morgan Freeman’s character get busted out of prison or paroled? I cannot remember. Certainly for most of the movie he is not free.
- 51a. [He should have starred in “The Saint”], JOHN GOODMAN. Raise your hand if you’re now thinking of the old American-lit short story, “Young Goodman Brown.”
- 60a. [He should have starred in “Taxi Driver”], GENE HACKMAN. “Hack” is slang for cab driver in the circles in which I do not travel.
Perhaps Paul Newman should have starred in a movie about a newborn baby boy, or a post-bar mitzvah teenager—no titles are coming to mind at the moment other than The Omen and The Bad Seed. He’d have been up against Henny Youngman, of course. Honor Blackman of Pussy Galore fame should have played Robert Downey Jr.’s role in Tropic Thunder. Natalie Portman should have taken the lead in On the Waterfront. Including women in the theme would have loosened the theme (hey, if “man” is also synonymous with “human,” it works), but keeping a theme tighter by going all male … well, there have been plenty of themes that are all male but didn’t have to be. I like to see a mix.
Moving along to the fill, ECOTAGE (31a. [Earth Liberation Front doings]) isn’t a common word—it’s a portmanteau of ecology and sabotage. I like ANTI-ART because I took a college class on plays and anti-plays (think Beckett, Ionesco, Stoppard). Discussion topic: What sort of crossword would constitute an anti-crossword?
Don’t know if it was prescient or coincidental that you mentioned those three (anteaters, sloths, armadillos) and those three alone—without, say, aardvarks and pangolins. For quite some time they were all grouped together as edentates.
It’s a bit esoteric, but they form the order Xenarthra, so named because of unique articulations of their vertebral joints.
As for their intoxicating quality, I can’t say. They are odd, but so are many other animals. Fortunately, they’re not venomous.
Didn’t like the clue for 28d YIN, as it’s more accurate to think of the symbols as complements rather than opposites.
While Amy maintains this site as a labor of love and not a source of profit, let’s all help her at least operate at a wash rather than at a loss.
Web hosting isn’t free.
There’s a “donate” link on the right of the page.
Thanks for all you do, Amy and contributors – you truly enrich our lives with your often thankless work.
“Omer” is indeed pretty obscure if my experience is any indication – I grew up Jewish, including celebrating Passover and going to hebrew school for several years, and I don’t recall the word.
Happy 7 years, Amy!
The NYT timer didn’t start today, oh well. Colourful theme answers, based on solid FIRE compounds (trust me this theme-type isn’t as easy as it looks!). At first PLAYINGWITHFIRE didn’t seem to be an apt revealer, but then I realised each half “plays” with fire. My first thought at 64A was in fact EDENTATE, which fitted although I quickly discounted it! I also didn’t think much of the OMER/ARPELS crossing. I knew OMER (it’s in the Bible, see here: http://bible.cc/exodus/16-36.htm) but the clue was quite Saturday! Are Kelso handbags sold in the States? Google answered: only in RSA.
I don’t think you have to be a jewelry lover to get ARPELS, just a lover of 1970’s game shows, where they were often a provider of lovely parting gifts (or maybe the kind you had to win).
The OMER was a grain sacrifice done on the second day of Passover, and the kickoff of a 7 week period during which observant Jews still count the days (49 of them) until Shavuot. Seen another way, it’s the period of time between the Children of Israel leaving Egypt and arriving at Mt. Sinai for the giving of the Law. Really not seen as a big deal outside of Orthodox circles.
I was nearly stumped at the crossing of KELSO and LETHE – seemed a little obscure for a Wednesday. But I liked the juxtaposition of JEWS and OMER, and can’t you just see our stooges sipping HOTTEA with a sugar cube held in their teeth, saying, “Oy! A mechaya!”
I didn’t know KELSO, neither horse nor handbag. OMER another unknown, tho I have done extensive study of the Hebrew Bible over the years. Liked BIRDHOUSE – it reminded my of my childhood. My father and I made several together.
Great theme, and I agree with Gareth – this puzzle couldn’t have been a cinch to construct.
Happy anniversary to Amy! I really like this blog, in part bec you comment on the LAT, with which I sometimes need help! But mostly for the great blog and comments.
Sam: Also ARCS and ARKS. I was halfway expecting SLUE, KICKS and, to a lesser extent, EARN and NIT.
Re Ross’s, is 64-Down a trick clue or just wrong? Staten I. to Rhode I. seems ENE on any map I’ve seen if we’re talking about the NYC borough and the US state.
Also, TAMALE is now “Mexicali munchie”, at least on washingtonpost.com.
Congrats to Amy on the milestone. So long as it’s never a millstone.
I’m not sure what’s wrong with calling complementary principles “opposites.” That’s the whole point. I think it’s a lot worse to call them “symbols.” You don’t want to dis the universe.
When is KELSO going to be clued as the Ashton Kutcher role?
Liked the NYT *much* better than the consensus. For one thing the entries that bothered others happened to be within my ken, so that helps. But I thought it was a nice tidy realization of a type of theme that is not always my favorite.
Join others in loving the LAT. Must have been a tricky to come up with the exact formulations to fit the required word lengths.
Pan, I often make an analogous comment re the expression *opposite* sex. Isn’t “opposite” a little harsh, (as irritating as “they” can be sometimes.) :-) Wouldn’t “other,” or complementary”, or different” (as in “Vive la”) sex be better?
Happy blogday, Amy!
I am counting as fast as I can.
ok, unaudited figures:
Amy has reviewed 9,051 puzzles through yesterday.
Total puzzles blogged overall by the entire team is 11,405.
Happy 7th., Amy.
Congrats, Amy! Celebrate the rest of the day by doing fun, non-puzzle related things.
Congrats Amy! Thanks for all you and the other fiends do! Glad most people seem to like the LAT puzzle today.
@Martin: KELSO is clued as the character on “That ’70s Show” in the Celebrity crossword and most likely in the indie/alt-weekly venues too. Much more famous than the horse for the under-50 crowd.
Congrats, Amy! And thanks. And what Jared said about donations.
I liked the NYT today, but then we just recently finished counting the OMER (though I’m not now and never have been Orthodox) and I used to love walking by the windows at Van Cleef and ARPELS when I went to NYC as a teenager. That struck me as a NYC-centric clue rather than a complete obscurity. Liked MAJORETTE and DOTMATRIX, and didn’t mind the names. I do really dislike THRO. I know it’s correct, but it looks weird and it annoys me. Overall, though, a better-than-average Wednesday for me.
Happy blogiversary! Your ears should be burning. John from Chicago had kind words for your work in comments at Deb’s blog. He’s right!
Thats a lot of crosswords, Amy. Thank you.
Good fun puzzle today.
Happy Anniversary Amy. Thanks for all you do.
As someone who lurks more often than comments, thanks for the site and congratulations on the anniversary.
LAT: Wow, brilliant theme idea, 5 stars even with the reservations I had! I’m sure I’m not the only one who tried to enter the actual movie lines: SOYLENTGREENISPEOPLE, LUKEIAMYOURFATHER etc. and discovered they didn’t fit. Also kinda wished SPOILERWARNING appeared somewhere, but that would have meant only 3 films, so on balance I’m happy Duce (Doug and Bruce) opted to do it the way they did!
I loved this puzzle. Great idea for a theme. I will buy midnight tickets for the sequel.
Congrats Amy! I enjoy reading this blog every day.
@Jeffrey: that’s not OCD. No, not at all.
@Gareth: my timer didn’t start either. Weird. BTW I finished it in 0:24, a new world record.
Good for you, Amy.
Theme nothing special, but puzzle ok. I didn’t like OEDS either, but OMER wasn’t hard to get, since ARPELS was a gimme for me even though I don’t care about jewelry (even on women). I did have ILO for a long time instead of ILA.
Amy: Joining in the chorus – thanks for offering a cosy, genial place for us to hang out! Appreciate it a ton! (And thanks to all the regular post-ers who make me want to come back as well).
p.s.: Watch out for that 7-year itch (I see you posting on other blogs lately, hence the cautionary note!)
I don’t always post but I often read this blog. So thanks, Amy, and everyone else for the entertaining insight to all these puzzles.
Sam: apparently the editors caught the Taco Bell gaff in time because my version of the puzzle clued 50d. as a “Mexicali munchie”. And I agree about orderers.
@Jeff: You are not the first to say that. You are number…
Actually, one of my former Google colleagues would sometimes greet me with “Man of Hin.” Although I guess one is still “approximately zero”.
I disagree that using actresses would have worked in this puzzle. If I’d used Natalie Portman, many solvers would undoubtedly have reacted, “Well, she’s a woman, so ‘port man’ doesn’t really work.”
BEQ had a great Taco Bell clue on Monday: “Bell who founded Taco Bell.” Who knew Taco Bell is named for a guy named Bell? It’s like Price Club being named for Sol Price. That’s why I hated to see it swallowed by Costco.
And I guess we’re all too mature to mentions Tyler’s entry, CUM. Except one of us.
I wonder if, now that Ben’s a dad, the hipness will evaporate.
Well, it’s not like there’s any other way to clue CUM.
Well, I wasn’t going to be the first, but Tyler definitely gets points from me. Not that he needs any points from me.
Incidentally, “Outerbridge Crossing”, from Staten Island to NJ actually *is* named for someone named Outerbridge.
Liked both Tyler’s and Ben’s.
Glen Bell and Sol Price are both real too.
Well, it’s not like there’s any other way to clue CUM.
As long as you mention it, I’m old-school on this topic and think cum is a noun only. The verb is “come.” But since I don’t write porn I have to accept that the usage has changed. Well, not the usage. You know what I mean.
Gareth, FYI the theme idea has been done before. The first time I saw it was in the NYT on Jan 8, 97.
The theme answers were:
ROSEBUD WAS A SLED
APEWORLD IS EARTH
SHE IS REALLY A MAN (The Crying Game)
Someone has a summa cum laude in clue writing.
You can’t omit mention actor Alan Cumming’s namesake fragrance. It seems to have vanished from the marketplace. A problem in the branding, perhaps? Getting a name that speaks to the marketplace is important. Getting a name that grosses out the marketplace is brand suicide.
My husband and son ask, “Not Glen Taco? Not Sol Club?”
I always thought Cumming the Fragrance was a gay men’s joke. This excerpt from a review does nothing to change my mind [lotsa sic]:
The opening is quite misterious with a boozy accord of whiskey and an extremely aromatic dry-tobacco quality. It’s like smelling a cigar and then lick it while holding in your hand an opened Zippo. This accord is very efemeral and it’s immediately joined by a bold animalic leather note that brings to mind of saddled horses passing by in the streets of London or New York. The strong animalic presence is handled to achive a metrosexual, sort of urban vibe as opposed to the typical barnyard/cowboy imaginary of most of the compositions that move in the same direction. In this context, Cumming is a damn sexy fragrance that will appeal to both hardcore leather fans and experimentalist-avanguardist perfumistos.
Right. I can see how my emphasis on the word *is* could have been taken to imply that I didn’t think Glen and Sol were real.
Martin: My use of the word “accurate” was inaccurate, but the notion accurately reflects my sense of those entities, much as Bruce N. Morton demonstrated with other so-called dualities. Good point about the symbols; I was careless there. On the other hand, I have a visually-oriented mind. When it isn’t being abstract. Or contradictory. Or abstruse. Or just plain annoying.
Happy blogoversary Amy!
My use of the word “accurate” was inaccurate…
I’m still laughing. Thanks and good night.
By the way, the Japanese version of yin and yang, in and yo, comprise a central concept in ikebana, not surprisingly. The arrangement has lit parts and dark parts (actually branches arranged to accurately express southern and northern exposures when they were in situ). You use some leaves showing their in side and others their yo side. Parts of the arrangement represent bright areas of nature and others dark parts.
And yes, in and yo must balance and complement each other. But we’re taught to work with a palette of opposites — light and dark, lit and shadowed (not the same), soft and hard, feminine and masculine, spiritual and physical — that it’s up to us to balance to the extent we think appropriate. Way out of balance is not good, but perfectly balanced is wrong too. But the materials express opposition and it’s up to us to provide some degree of complementation. Does this make sense?
@Gareth: No, I am your father.
Martin: Yes, it makes sense. See also, wabi-sabi (which has garnered attention in recent years). Japanese culture so often has an admirable aesthetic sense.
Are you familiar with Leonard Koren‘s writings?