Monday, 8/27/12

NYT 3:27 (pannonica) 
LAT 3:56/Flash 
CS 5:11 (Sam) 
BEQ untimed 

Michael Farabaugh’s New York Times crossword — pannonica’s review

NYT • 8/27/12 • Mon • Farabaugh • 8 27 12 • solution

As I was solving, I got a sense of what was going on with the theme, but couldn’t quite see it, especially since I was pushing for time and didn’t want to become distracted. It was a progression of sorts—but not a strict letter progression—and each started with an L.

Upon finishing I surveyed and assessed and … well, I don’t think I get it. Or I do, and I don’t like it. Unless I’m mistaken, it’s a sound progression theme with a host of inconsistencies.

  • 17a. [Purchasing system with payments made over time] LAYAWAY PLAN.
  • 29a. [Former Chrysler C.E.O.] LEE IACOCCA.
  • 34a. [Goldbrick] LIE DOWN ON THE JOB.
  • 43a. [Healthful food regimen, traditionally] LOW-FAT DIET. Funny how the clue is qualified with a traditionally, since contemporary diets are all over the map, with miscellaneous rationales. Although I suspect that’s true for all of our history and not now. Perhaps traditionally and conventionally, but that’s getting far too wordy for a simple crossword clue.
  • 56a. [He played the Hulk on 1970s–’80s TV] LOU FERRIGNO.

So. LAY, LEE, LIE, LOW, LOU. A, E, I, O, U. The first four are the traditional long vowel sounds, in order, in English. The last is not. Though not a full-out short sound, it’s a curtailed or compromised long version. I don’t know the linguistic specification, but it’s the sound in “coo” rather than “cue” (but not the short one in “cut”).

Next. Three of the five L-syllables—LEE, LIE, LOU—are unequivocally separate words. The other two, in context, are generally not. Although it can be written as two words, layaway is typically a compound word ( Similarly low-fat, in modifying a diet, is more often hyphenated but is sometimes written as two words or rendered as a compound.

Finally, two of the five are names. This in and of itself wouldn’t be too bad, but the fact that the two share many similarities tips the scales against them. Both men, both with Italian surnames, and both whose height of fame was in the 1970s and 1980s. The other three themers are not proper names at all, not titles, et cetera. The imbalance is very distracting.

Each of the three faults I’ve noted in theme execution are less than completely egregious and each is arguable, but the presence of all three is just too much.

Some notes:

  • Are Monday solvers up for the combo of DIAN Fossey, the crosswordese OAST, and Carl ICAHN running alongside each other? (25d, 26d, 27d)
  • Long verticals DEAD HEAD, EAST SIDE.
  • Speaking of names, we also have: ANI, RAUL, NAOMI, SVEN, SELA, ROE, YSL (in monogram form), ROY, EEYORE, SMEE, JOVE, and ONO.
  • Some less common abbrevs.: ILO (International Labor Organization), SOR. (sorority), NIT [Annual coll. basketball competition] (National __ Tournament?).
  • Did I mention the partials? Actually, I won’t. Will just say instead that the puzzle had too high a CAP Quotient™ (crosswordese, abbrevs., partials) for an early-week offering.
  • ACOLYTE looks nice in the grid, I suppose.

Unsatisfying puzzle.

Updated Monday morning:

Randolph Ross’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “No Great Shakespeare” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, August 27

Three common terms that end with the start of a Shakespearean play get the rest of the Bard’s work appended to the end, resulting in three wacky new terms that get clued accordingly:

  • 20-Across: “Burger King” becomes BURGER KING LEAR, the [Fast-food private jet?]. See, the trick there is that the clue makes no reference to Shakespeare, to King Lear, or to Goneril, the daughter with a name that sounds like the medical condition you might get after one too many Whoppers. I like the subtlety of this approach.
  • 36-Across: Little Richard becomes LITTLE RICHARD II, the [Son of a “Long Tall Sally” singer]. A “Long Tall Sally” singer? How many are there?
  • 49-Across: A salty “Virginia ham” becomes the more sanguine VIRGINIA HAMLET, a [Small town in the Old Dominion?].

No BIG MACBETH? No ORANGE JULIUS CAESAR? (Yeah, yeah, that last one’s 18 letters.) No ALFA ROMEO AND JULIET? (Yeah, yeah, also 18 letters.) I have one dollar that says BIG MACBETH was the last one cut from the list, and solely for want of another 10-letter theme entry to accompany it.

There’s a very interesting assortment of non-theme fill here. The snobbish appeal of FRONTLINE is balanced against its symmetrical opposite, BEER FESTS. I liked EX-YANKEE, ANKARA, and I’D SAY, and was less a fan of that whole northwest corner with VOCE, DELE, and LOEB all over each other.

So I liked the puzzle but I’m nervous about today’s installment of Name That Constructor Month. We’re near the finish line and I need a lot of points to make my goal (though I feel I should point out here that this goal has been twice adjusted, as I have blown through my initial goals of 10.5 points and 30 points). And I have no good hunch about who made this puzzle. I see shades of Doug Peterson (hello, XENA and the baseball reference in EX-YANKEE), shades of Lynn Lempel (silky smooth fill, save for the northwest), and shades of Tony Orbach (this kind of wordplay seems right up his alley). But I’m not sure that it’s any of them. I’ll try this:

1. Lynn Lempel 2. Gail Grabowski 3. Randy Ross.

Well, at least I scored one more point. Every little bit counts. Name That Constructor Stats After 27 Puzzles: 9 correct first choices (3 points each), 4 correct second choices (2 points each), 4 correct third choices (1 point each); 39 points total so far; adjusted score to beat = 50 points. If I’m going to make my goal, I need three correct first guesses and a correct second guess in the last four puzzles. Yeesh. Tune in tomorrow–you may not want to miss the moment the ship hits the iceberg.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Themeless Monday”

8/27 BEQ Themeless

Whoa. I was takin’ care of business (every day, every way) all day, and now it’s the end of the afternoon and I’ve not finished the morning blogging. And Pannonica has not blogged the LAT yet, because we’ve been waiting all day for a .puz file to appear. Sigh. I don’t love the online Flash or Java option, whichever it is. Did I miss last Monday’s BEQ too?

Call me crazy, but I really am quite fond of 1-Across. The first time I heard the song was via the  official video, which captivated me. Come on! Girl is hot for shirtless hot guy, girl sings song for guy, girl saucily washes her car in front of guy, girl gives her number to guy … and hot guy gives his number to her bandmate because he’s gay. How can you not love that? Plus, it’s a damn catchy song, and markedly better than last year’s “I refuse to listen to that song even once” hit, “Friday.” I have zero interest in all the “CALL ME MAYBE” parody/cover videos, though. (Except for this one, spliced together from Obama speeches.)

I’m glad that 21a: [Start something enthusiastically] is LEAP IN and not WADE IN. I know the dictionary tells us that “wade in” means “make a vigorous attack or intervention,” but that makes no sense at all. When I make a vigorous attack on jumping into the lake, there’s no wading. Wading is the slow way in.

Best answers: retro BEAD CURTAIN, timely PUSSY RIOT, tasty BOWTIE PASTA, football woe TURF TOE, spoken “YES, BUT.”

Favorite clues:

  • 35a. [New parent’s wish, often], REST.
  • 2d. [Mean relative?], AVERAGE.

New-to-me answer: 37d. [Yemen’s third-largest city], TAIZ.

Gestalt rating, 3.75 stars.

Bruce Venzke’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword answers, 8 27 12

Dagnabbit! I neglected to check again for the .puz file and did the puzzle in the icky Flash interface at the Chicago Tribune website. (The Flash puzzles at the Washington Post behave considerably more like Across Lite, I assure you. Active square skips over filled squares, arrow-key navigation is pretty much as it is in Across Lite. The shift-arrow jumping-to-the-start trick is not there, I don’t think, but I never got in the habit of using that so I don’t miss it.) Non-speed-solvers think it’s obnoxious when speed solvers complain that the interface slows them down but seriously, a Monday LAT should take me no more than 3 minutes. Approaching 4 minutes means the entire process took me at least a third longer than it should have. Really. For speed solvers, Monday puzzles are essentially a matter of how long it takes to fill in the answers that we know pretty much as soon as we’ve read the clue.

Aaanyway—the theme is held together by MARKET OPENING, and both words in each of the other theme answers can precede the word “market.” 17a: [High-performing Wall Street investment] clues SUPER STOCK—supermarket, stock market. My only problem with this is that I’ve never, ever heard of a “super stock.” 26a: [Salmon, trout, cod, etc.] clues FOOD FISH. “Food market” seems faintly out of the language to me, but fish market is familiar. 50a: [Past all major obstacles] clues HOME FREE. What the heck is “home market”? Is that the real estate market for houses and condos? Free market is rock-solid. 58a: COMMON BOND is clued as a [Unifying connection]. Nice phrase, workable clue, and both common market and the bond market are quite familiar.

Didn’t love the opening corner of the grid. MERCS isn’t a great 1-Across ([Some Ford autos, briefly]), and the dictionary I checked doesn’t want to pluralize syrup as SYRUPS. Lots of proper names might have snagged some solvers, too. One name in particular has a tricky crossing—48d: [Stoicism founder] crosses 48a: [Scrabble 10-pointers]. My head’s in Lexulous-land so I don’t recall all the Scrabble values, and I’m not sure if the X-TILES are 8 or 10 points. I know the Q and Z are (they’re both worth 12 in Lexulous), and Stoic ZENO and prefix XENO would be pronounced the same. (You want ZENO and Z-TILES here.)

2.75 stars.

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25 Responses to Monday, 8/27/12

  1. john farmer says:

    The long-“u’ vowel sound in “coo” and “cue” are identical. The latter word adds a “y” sound, which is why the two words sound different. The vowel sound progression of LAY, LEE, LIE, LOW, LOU sounds perfectly fine to my ear.

    LAY AWAY PLAN is three separate words in the entry in my dictionary. I’d guess there are two or three ways you could write it. Likewise, LOW-FAT DIET.

    I can’t say I follow the two-names-out-of-five-are-“distracting” (and Italian!) argument, so I won’t try to rebut it. But the idea that the three nits are “just too much” is probably a minority view.

    Fwiw, I thought it was a good Monday puzzle.

    • pannonica says:

      “Puke” vs. “duke” (/ū/ vs. /ü/). Am I being extremist about this?

      • pannonica says:

        addendum: I just realized that some people pronounce “duke” the same way as “puke.” How about “juke” or “fluke”?

      • joon says:

        i agree with farmer john. the long U vowel sound is “oo”, not “yoo”. so LOU is (much) better than LIU for this theme. the theme is just fine—maybe better than that, since it’s a nice twist on a familiar genre.

        in my dictionary, LAYAWAY is one word, so that is a strike against the theme. the italian name (is that really what IACOCCA is?) nit is bewildering almost beyond belief. really, it’s a distraction that two of the five theme answers had something in common other than a vowel sound progression?

        all that said, i thought the fill and clues were rather unmondayish, so i didn’t love this one overall. but the theme was just fine.

      • pannonica says:

        Wikipedia: “Iacocca was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania to Nicola Iacocca and Antonietta Perrotta, Italian immigrants (from San Marco dei Cavoti, Benevento) who had settled in Pennsylvania’s steel-making belt. “ My complaint was that they had more than one thing that allied them: another bit of accumulation.

      • john farmer says:

        Fwiw, I didn’t think the two Italian surnames was a (big) problem myself.

        That said, what if the puzzle had LOU COSTELLO? Would that be a problem? Costello sounds like an Italian name but generally is Irish. Lou C., however, was Italian-American, born Cristillo, and he adopted Costello as a stage name. Does the Irish name give him a pass, or does his blood get him dinged? Is an appeal to the rules committee needed? Does any of this matter to the average solver, or is he or she just glad to fill the squares and get on with the day?

  2. Huda says:

    I understand that we are to think phonetically about the theme, but I was bothered by the fact that we had LA, LE, LI, LO and LO as the start of the theme answers. It really needed to be a LU– for the last theme answer.. I think the constructor saw the theme as single syllable words, and was trapped in finding a single syllable Lu that sounds like the long “u” (Luck, Lug Luke, etc. don’t sound right with the phonetic progression). So, the theme may have been mission impossible.

    I did like some of the fill: DEADHEAD, ACOLYTE, WOLFED, etc. But I have a major NIT with NIT…

    • Lois says:

      Luke would have been fine as the fifth in both an alphabetic and phonetic progression. I agree with you that it was surprising to have LA, LE, LI, LO and LO as the beginnings of the theme answers. Having the progression be phonetic is consistent in a way, and might have seemed a cute trick if I had ever heard of Lou Ferrigno. Instead, I did not like the feeling of going out of my mind on a Monday.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Talk to LOU FERRIGNO for just $19.95:

    • Mitchs says:

      Matt, that link was sad in some kind of “meta” way. I can’t quite figure out how, though. Gee, what’s that remind me of?

  4. Dan says:

    Hi all – hoping you could help, I am a NYT subscriber but don’t have Saturday’s puzzle or Ken Ken (my wife’s fave) Is there somewhere I can download those without paying? I can’t go a week without the challenge of a Saturday NYT crossword!

    Appreciate the help.

  5. pannonica says:

    CS: Regarding “Big MacBeth,” see Scotland, PA (2002). Not nearly as good a film as the updated Hamlet (2000) directed by Michael Almereyda, but it seemingly meets your mind, Sam.

    • I remember seeing both the Almereyda modernist version and the Kenneth Branagh “I Too Can Be Olivier” version that came out a few years prior. I enjoyed them both — though I probably lean toward Branagh simply because it was fun to hear Jack Lemmon say that “something is wrong in the state of Denmark”…

      • pannonica says:

        The Branagh is undeniably good, but I loved Bill Murray’s Polonious. Also, the bravura flourish of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy as interior monologue, while Hamlet stalks the aisles of a video store, the category signs blaring ACTION at either side.

      • I’d forgotten the specifics of that video store scene. Point well taken.

  6. Neville says:

    I really enjoyed the NYT puzzle today, save for the crossing of NIT/DO IN, if only because I think that there are better ways to clue NIT on a Monday. Rather liked the theme, esp. as a Monday theme.

    • Jeff Chen says:

      Three cheers for Neville’s positivity! The puzzle almost always gives me a few minutes of enjoyment.

  7. ArtLvr says:

    Loved the CS title, No Great Shakespeare – that was fun!And I had no nits with the NYT Monday offering, though I wasn’t sure of Lou’s last name till I put in the crosses. Lurleen Wallace, former Gov. of Alabama (for 15 months, until her death), might have been more interesting — but too long!

  8. maikong says:

    Darn it, you missed the clue that would have given you three points. Who else but Randolph would use the clue “little lower?” for Calf? Remember he has tried that before!!! Fun puzzle.

    • Bruce N. Morton says:

      I *think*, though not positive, that Nucky (Frank Longo) was the originator of that clue.

  9. ArtLvr says:

    At last, the LAT! Bruce Venzke gave us a nice tight one, double-loaded with theme material… Why was “home” the one I didn’t find very comfortable? The rest were spot on, and even had bookends top and bottom for the same venue!

  10. Old Geezer says:

    BEQ: LEAPIN, jump in, and especially dive in are better than wade in for ‘enthusiastic.’

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