Saturday, 9/15/12

Newsday 11:36* 
NYT 6:04 
LAT 4:58 
CS 4:40 (Sam) 
WSJ (Saturday) tba 

JOON PAHK and Brad Wilber’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 9 15 12 0915

(Gotta help JOON meet his uppercase quota. Every LITTLE bit helps.) Excellent puzzle from this pair, combining science, literature, and fun phrases.

Science! 16a: OCTOPI are [Experts at jet propulsion], whereas the Jet Propulsion Laboratory seems more rockety. 17a: DRAGONET is a [Colorful marine fish with spiny, fanlike fins] that I’d never heard of but it sounds like a neat fish family. (Treat yourself to a Google image search on “dragonet” and marvel at the wild assortment of colors and patterns.) Who knew that [Nickelodeon’s Stimpy, e.g.], was a 41d: MANX CAT? Yes, I suppose he does lack a long tail. The 45d: SPIREA is a [Shrub also called meadowsweet], and the astronomical definition of a 48d: METEOR is, of course, [Hunk noted for streaking].

Literature! 44a: [Christie and others] clues ANNAS, after the O’Neill play’s lead, Anna Christie. 2d: PORTIA is [Balthasar’s true identity, in Shakespeare]; Merchant of Venice, yes? 7d: Ian MCEWAN is your [“Atonement” novelist, 2001]. There’s Dr. Seuss’s THE LORAX. Tolkien’s INNS of Middle-earth count, too.

The fun stuff: UP IN ARMS makes for a terrific 1-Across. Its I crosses 3d: [Start for Friday?], “I’M A COP.” “I’m a cop” is the line my cousin Brian uses when people ask what he does for a living, because everybody understands that; he actually works for, I dunno, a hedge fund or investment banking concern or something. The I’M is duplicated in 29d: “I’M ON IT,” [Gofer’s pledge]. That one amused me because I enjoy the @NYTOnIt Twitter feed (sample tweet: “GUYS, it gets a bit cooler at night during fall, and The Times is ON IT.”). 55a: DON’T JINX IT is a beauty.

For the clue 35a: [Famous higher-up in admissions?], I wondered if Nixon had admitted wrongdoing, but it’s not that kind of admissions that ST. PETER is famous for. For 13d: [Delivery room shot], I was pondering whether there’s an 8-letter term for “photo of the baby crowning], but it’s not that kind of shot, it’s an EPIDURAL. (Obligatory caveat: If you or someone you love gets an epidural and has the worst headache in their life afterwards, fetch an anesthesiologist for a “blood patch” to remedy the problem. Learned this one the hard way.)

Also liked the hardboiled film angle of De Niro in RONIN, Stallone playing NITTI the CRIMINAL, and the TANGIERS Casino featured in Casino.

Pop music clue that I’m thinking didn’t come from Joon and maybe also not from opera buff Brad: 22a: [“Cherry ice cream smile” wearer, in a Duran Duran hit], is RIO. Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand, you know. Me, I bought that album with my allowance.

You know it’s a super-smooth puzzle when the worst thing in it is the world capital (of Samoa), APIA. Even small world capitals are fair game on the geography front, as are teeny nations like DOMINICA. (I give thanks to Sporcle and its North American countries quiz for putting Dominica firmly in my mind.)

Oh! And then there’s the wackiness of the spelling for DWYANE WADE. I freely admit that I started keying in DWAY… before I remembered that Wade is an all-star in the crazy-spelled athletes league.

4.5 stars.

Jeffrey Wechsler’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 9 15 12

This puzzle is sort of a hybrid between old and new. Clearly 31d: FiOS, [Verizon communications service], is current, and the woeful 14a: E-SALE, [Virtually done deal?], did not exist pre-internet. But then you have full names of two people who were most famous several decades ago—35d: IRA LEVIN, [“Deathtrap” playwright], wrote some terrific stories, so he’s still relevant, whereas I don’t think I would know of 18a: URI GELLER, [Mentalist who failed to bend Johnny Carson’s spoons], if it weren’t for a life of crossword solving. (Apparently Geller still has a career in Europe. Who knew?)

My favorite part of this puzzle was being stumped by 30a: [Expense account item], which really looked like it was TAX-something, and 27d: [Bum wrap]. Eventually the TAX expanded to TAXI FARE and the spot where DHOTI and LOINCLOTH wouldn’t fit inherited a DIAPER. My favorite answer is 53a: UGLY AS SIN, [Repulsive], mostly because it looks like a verb in the grid. “Yeah, I know this shirt is stained. I don’t care. I’m ugly-assin’ it today.” Other good entries include LILY WHITE, I SURE CAN, and the consonant-heavy DVD DRIVE (which has a tricky clue, [Popular burning spot]). My favorite clue is 25d: [Emitted a backup signal?], for BEEPED. Pet peeve: When there’s a large truck trying to back into the narrow driveway next to my home office. When that beeping sound is 15 feet away from you for a solid 20 minutes, it’s crazy-making.

Tough spots:

  • 4d. [Bauhaus school teacher], Paul KLEE. “School teacher” looks too much like “schoolteacher” so this messed with my brain a little.
  • 48a. [Crestor target, for short], LDL. Crestor is a brand-name cholesterol-lowering medication. Kinda looks like it should be related to the crosswordese words ARETE and TOR, no?
  • 1d. [Therapist’s challenge], SELF-HATE. Not such a common phrase, I don’t think.
  • 12d. [Ont. site of a War of 1812 battle], FT. ERIE. I did not know there was a Canadian Fort Erie. It sounds so Ohio/Pennsylvanian to me.
  •  41d. [Satellite’s eye], IMAGER. You don’t say.
  • 46d. VESTI [“__ la giubba”: “Pagliacci” aria]. I never remember all the letters. (Hey, opera answer, what are you doing over here instead of in Brad Wilber’s NYT?

Three stars.

Updated Saturday morning:

Alan Arbesfeld’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword – Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, September 15

Today’s puzzle has these four theme entries:

  • 20-Across: Something in [A more dilapidated state] is in WORSE CONDITION.
  • 24-Across: A running back that [Got three feet on the gridiron] has GAINED A YARD.
  • 45-Across: [Salvation, often] is a SERMON THEME.
  • 54-Across: One [Full-time job benefit] is STEADY EARNINGS.

SERMON THEME really stood out as an awkward entry, and that led me to look more carefully for a hidden word or something similar to justify it. Sure enough, MONTH is hidden in there (SERMON THEME), and you’ll see other lengths of time likewise hidden in the other answers: WORSE CONDITION has a second, GAINED A YARD has a day, and STEADY EARNINGS holds a year. In an elegant touch, the four time periods range from shortest at the top to longest at the bottom.

So what is this puzzle’s title? That brings us to today’s guess in Name That Puzzle. The title I keep coming back to is Time Spans. Each of the hidden words is a time span, and this term describes how the units of time span the words in each theme entry. Splitting Time could also work, but I prefer Time Spans so that one will be my guess.

Nerts, I’m wrong again. The title is “Central Time, indicating how a unit of time is in the center of each theme entry. Except they aren’t, really. The SECOND in WORSE CONDITION isn’t “centered,” and neither is the DAY in GAINED A YARD (In fairness, the units in the other two theme entries are perfectly centered.) So I like my title better this time. But it took me 15 tries to come up with a better title, so it’s not like I’m really crowing about this one.

I liked a lot of the fill. OSSIFYING is a cool word, and TRUMPED UP, LET GO, TEN-TO-ONE and THURGOOD Marshall add some zing. The nine-letter entries abutting theme answers (TRIAL DATE and LAGUARDIA) contribute to the open feel in this 72-answer puzzle (remember, we’ve seen freestyle CS crosswords with 74 answers, so this grid could be a Sunday Challenge–yet it has 50 theme squares that don’t allow for many compromises. So SERMON THEME may be terribly weak, but the rest of the puzzle atones (ha!) for this weakness nicely.

Bruce Sutphin’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”

Newsday crossword solution, 9 15 12 “Saturday Stumper”

I was not alone in struggling mightily with this puzzle—Michael “Rex Parker” Sharp also got stuck in the southeast quadrant. I did what I do less than once a year: I turned to software to both highlight my incorrect letters (those squares have green checks) and reveal one letter (the O with an eye icon above it) to give me a boost. My solving time would have been much, much longer without those cheats (I could also have Googled a few things to make a dent here, but didn’t).

Now, the northwest section was also tough, but I eventually managed to fill that in unassisted (STARKER for 8d: [More complete] feels so oblique that it was hard to crack into the corner, even with LEGIBLE in place).

Entries I liked seeing include MOO SHU (1d. [Pancake filler]), “SIR, NO, SIR!,” AARON SORKIN, MASERATI (31d. [Quattroporte builder]—that’s the four-door Maserati, a practical family sedan), and PRIMEVAL. I would have been all over 57a: IRON MIKE if it had been clued as ear-biter Tyson, but 57a: [Pitching machine] meant absolutely nothing to me. A baseball gadget? Tar? Advertising? A boat pitching in the waves?

The southeast struggles involved these:

  • 29d. [With 44 Down, success for 39 Down], TEN plus a 6-letter 44d. I figured out that 39d: [Alley cats] were KEGLERS in a bowling alley, but “TEN ******” as a bit of bowling terminology was a complete blank. When the various cheats allowed me to make progress in that corner, I eventually got STRIKE for 44d, but TEN STRIKE is not a term I’ve ever heard. The dictionary (MWCD-11) has it hyphenated: “1. A strike in tenpins. 2. A highly successful stroke or achievement.” I must say, cluing TEN and STRIKE together as part of a phrase and putting another bowling term in the same corner is not a ten-strike. More of a strikeout.
  • 52a. [Contenders] isn’t ALSO-RANS, it’s ALLEGERS, people who contend that something is true. Meh. I have never, ever called someone making allegations an “alleger.”
  • 55a. [”Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” screenwriter], LEON URIS. Much of Uris’s oeuvre is novels set in other countries. If you didn’t already know that Uris also wrote a screenplay for a 1957 Western movie…you’re sunk. Or you Google it. This one is surprisingly Googleable for a Stumper clue.
  • 59a. [Ad lib], short for ad libitum, usually means “extemporaneous” or “as much as desired.” I haven’t seen it meaning precisely AS NEEDED.
  • 53d. [What Brits call a ”diver”], LOON. No idea. Now, if it had been clued [Bird that Brits call a “diver”], it might have been within reach.
  • 49d. [Tapered tubes], PENNE. I view tapering to mean getting narrower at one end. Penne noodles are cut at an angle, but the geometric tube portion has no tapering at all. The clue pointed me toward CONES more than PENNE.
  • 42d. [Clover, e.g.], LEGUME. My guess here was FORAGE, envisioning cattle foraging in the field and eating clover.
  • 43d. [Laptop handle], USER ID. When I had an A where the E goes, I figured it was some laptop model/brand name and waited fruitlessly for the crossings to form the answer.
  • 45d. [Retired with difficulty], TOSSED. I figured this was a baseball pitching clue and got nowhere. If you go to bed with difficulty, you may toss and turn.
  • 42a. [Relish], LUST. To my ears, relish seems to lack the concupiscence of LUST.
  • 49a. [Topping made in a mortar], PESTO. Had that C for CONES where the P goes, so I was lost here.

Other quicksand zones:

  • 6d. [”It’ll be __!”], partial A GAS. I might have preferred [Turkish leaders]. Oh! I have a relevant link here for A GAS. It’s an entertaining fart anecdote. No, really. Read it.
  • 13d. [Accepts an invitation, perhaps], EATS OVER. Doesn’t feel like any sort of lexical chunk to me. Eat out, eat in, yes. But “Karen eats over at Bob’s house” feels like it’s just a verb and a preposition that happen to be near each other, no more a unit than “Karen watches Netflix over at Bob’s house.”
  • 32d. [Rang], CALLED ON. Wanted CALLED UP, as in “rang on the phone.” But I think it’s CALLED ON, as in “rang the doorbell for.”

Sweet clues:

  • 18a. [Upon seeing it, John Muir’s ”blood turned to wine”], Mount SHASTA. It helps to know Muir is most closely tied to California’s natural wonders. In Muir Woods, it’s so shady and moist that 9d: MOSS grows on all sides of a tree, not just the north side. So the moss won’t help you find your way out if you’re lost there.
  • 5d. [Prolific Hungarian mathematician], ERDOS. Enough of my crossword acquaintances are mathematicians and math professors that I know what an Erdös number is. It’s Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon for the math world.
  • 26d. [Bogart played it by mail], CHESS. I’m thinking this was in The African Queen.
  • 27d. [Aftermath of service faults], NO TIP. Restaurant service, not serving in tennis.

It’s hard to come up with a star rating for a puzzle like this. I’m thinking 3.25 to 3.75 stars for three quarters of the puzzle, and %#$* stars for the southeast.

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16 Responses to Saturday, 9/15/12

  1. Brad Wilber says:

    I will take credit for the Duran Duran clue, actually!

    • joon says:

      with a few exceptions, the across clues are brad’s and the down clues are mine. there were several that were collaborative in nature, where we bounced a few ideas back & forth, and only a handful more that were changed entirely in editing. i think my favorite cutting-room floor clues were {Unsoundly?} for 14d and {Stars in “Gladiator”?} for 21d. that latter one was probably too much of a stretch, since, of course, that movie isn’t actually in latin.

      also, if you have not seen the chase scene from RONIN, definitely check it out. i’ll warn you that it is pretty freaking intense.

      thanks for the kind words, everybody!

  2. NYT fill and clue misdirection were fantastic — I struggled more with SE and NW than I should have but enjoyed the challenge thoroughly. Best puzzle I’ve solved in months — thanks, Brad and Joon.

    (PS: One of these days, ST PETER will be clued to honor my alma mater [Minnesota city home to Gustavus Adolphus College]. If there’s one thing on which Amy and I agree, it’s that St. Olaf gets way too much recognition in NYT puzzles.)

  3. Gareth says:

    DONTJINXIT is one of those entries so fabulous that once you’ve put in your grid the puzzle’s pretty much sold! (except now it’s been used!) The rest of the puzzle had not an objectionable letter in it. Solved it in Fri/Sat time, making steady consistent progress without ever zooming off into the distance… FETA, STPETER and especially ACNE – fabulous clues! I can’t be the only one who wanted INNS to be eNts?? I read Lord of the Rings when I was oh 13, 14? Also off the F confidently dropped FIdo/DOG, very smugly too!

  4. Mitchs says:

    Perfect Saturday experience. No firm footing at first, but the aha’s came and they were great. Loved DRAGONET xing IMACOP. And 55A, of course.

  5. Huda says:

    NYT: A thing of beauty.

    First thought in lieu of EPIDURAL: OXYTOCIN– I figured Joon is involved, it’s Saturday, it’s Scrabbly. Too bad it didn’t work. But DON’T JINX IT was so much better than DON’T COUNT YOUR CHICKEN (which of course doesn’t fit on a week day).

    I love the combination of the MASSES UP IN ARMS, right there at the top!

  6. Karen says:

    I had difficulty crossing MCEWAN and DWYANE, and had to look up the latter because my crazy spelling sense was tingling. In the SE fell into the BOTHER and FIDO traps at 47 and 58 down.

  7. sbmanion says:

    I am embarrassed to note that even though I am a huge pro basketball fan, I never noticed the odd spelling of D Wade’s name. Maybe that is why they call him D Wade.

    NW killed me as I put in BAD COP for Friday as in good cop, bad cop. Superb puzzle.


    • Brad Wilber says:

      DWYANE WADE was not my seed here, but coincidentally my late father’s name was “DuWayne.” He was born during WW2 near Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, NC, and that was the spelling the attending nurse saddled him with when my grandma gave her the name orally. Or so the story goes.

      If he’d had a nickel for every time either one of his names was misspelled…when you add WILBER to the mix….ooh boy. Once I remember him getting mail addressed to “Dulvayne” and mining that for humor ever after.

  8. Zulema says:

    Really great puzzle, clues, entries, everything. Thank you all.

  9. Papa John says:

    After more than thirty years of puzzle solving, apparently I’m not aware of the nuances that makes today’s NYT such a great puzzle, for so many of you, while the LAT is not so great. Amy gives them a one-and-a-half point spread. I can’t see it. I thought they were both very good puzzles. (I see the combined scores show only a half-point spread, more in keeping with my own assessment, but there’s a big difference in how many folks have voted for each one.)

    Is grading done on a gut level or is there actually a score card, listing all the attributes that make a puzzle either great or not so great? I don’t have any problem rating puzzles as plainly varied as the NYT verses, say, the TV Guide, but the vast majority of the puzzles reviewed here are truly good works (with the very rare clunker). Even if there were such a score card, I would think that many, if not most, of the elements listed would be highly subjective – originality, cleverness of the clues, the “funniness” of the puns, the theme choices, etc. It turns out that even the number of proper names in any given puzzle is a matter of personal opinion.

    It reminds me of the cliché, “I may not know art, but I know what I like.”

    • HH says:

      Of course it’s subjective. Whether someone likes or dislikes *anything* is subjective.

    • Michael says:

      Agreed. The star system is obviously subjective and thus totally unreliable as a marker of puzzle quality. I thought both the NYT and the LAT were equally well-made diversions.

    • Huda says:

      The star rating is, I think, a good measure of solver’s reactions–assuming no one is being positively or negatively prejudiced towards the constructors(s). So, yes, taste rather than objective criteria.
      I like to look at the spread. Is someone getting a 3 star by getting 90% of the ratings being 3’s or by getting anywhere from 1 to 5? I think that says a lot . A recent example is the spread on the ONE EGG is AN OEUF puzzle. That was very wide ranging and I think if I were a constructor I’d like it better that a medium rating across the board, because it would say that the puzzle was distinctive enough to elicit strong reactions in both directions. Of course, a puzzle with all 4 and 5 ratings says a lot as well!

      But I agree that it would be interesting to think more about what makes a puzzle experience enjoyable. I’d guess a mix of design, surprise, clever clues, coherence and the sweet spot between unexpected yet not impossible (for the day).

  10. Connie says:

    Fabulous! A five-star. # of proper names a bit high, but # of xwordese super low at 1, maybe 2. And a high number of clever clues/misdirections – very fun. All in all, one of the best in a long time.
    Which might answer Papa John. And it always helps when the constructors are in one’s mindset. Actually surprising since Joon is usually ‘way newer than my ancient mind – only one rapper!

  11. Bob Bruesch says:

    Again – copied answers for LAT. Got a good laugh with the idiotic and arcane defs. Such a waste of paper space! Ill try once more next week – then – I’m outta here!!

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