Wednesday, 10/3/12

NYT 3:42 
LAT 3:46 (Gareth) 
Onion untimed 
CS 6:51 (Sam) 
Blindauer 6:35 (Matt) 

Matt Gaffney’s got a serious article over at Politico. It’s called “The crossword writer’s candidates” and it’s an examination of crossword constructors’ professional reasons for supporting a presidential candidate. It goes way beyond U NU, people.

Gary Cee’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 10 3 12 1003

Crisp theme: Six two-word phrases are made of words that form new phrases/compound words when preceded by the word HIGH. This makes each of those theme answer words a “HIGHTAIL. You’ve got ENERGY BAR, ROAD TEST, ART CLASS, MASS CARD, JUMP BALL, and TIMES SIGN, six fairly lively entries unto themselves even without the double-barreled HIGH+ action. It’s a high-energy, high-test, high-class theme. All the components were familiar to me except for the high sign. Non-Catholics may not know what a mass card ([Catholic remembrance]) is; I know them as those little cards, sometimes laminated, handed out at a funeral and giving the name/dates of someone who died along with an inspirational verse or bible quote and perhaps a stock religious picture.

Highlights: HURRAY, RAN HARD, MIXED UP, THE JETS, and AUDUBON. Lowlights: HANA DUZ EDO (this is a sequel to Debbie Does Dallas), ANIL, SSRS, AES, ALTAI, EELY, and YMA—a whole lotta crosswordese. Do the theme and the stacked 7s offset the short clunkers for you? Without those crosswordese blights, I’d have rated this one above the 4-star mark. With them? Still 3.5 stars. I enjoyed the puzzle overall.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Calling the Geek Squad” – Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, October 3

You think you have technology problems! Today’s puzzle is infested with four different computer glitches. More accurately, the grid features four terms ending with a word that can also be a computer problem:

  • 17-Across: One [Winter woe] is a COLD VIRUS. To me, the bigger woes are snow and ice.
  • 32-Across: The [1968 Disney film] is THE LOVE BUG. Who says product placement is a creature of the last decade or two?
  • 48-Across: The [Ocean invertebrate] is a MARINE WORM. They’re like earthworms with gills. Or really small eels.
  • 66-Across: To [Attend uninvited] is to GATE CRASH. Don’t show up uninvited to Alanis Morissette’s house or you’ll never hear the end of it.

Oof, it felt like I never got much traction in solving this beast. It started at 1-Across, when I could see Scott CAAN of “Hawaii Five-0” but couldn’t think of his name for the life of me. Caan! It didn’t help that JAVA was my first (inane) thought for [Andean stimulant] instead of COCA. Or that [Toowoomba native] meant nothing to me as a clue for AUSSIE. Or that I was fooled into thinking of the gemstone with the clue [Diamond family name] instead of baseball. Had I seen that trap in advance, I could have plunked down ALOU, the most wonderful four-letter, three-vowel surname in all of professional sports. So yeah, that was an ugly start.

There were other rough patches, like where I wanted ESTEEMED instead of EMINENT for [Highly regarded]. CAPER seems like a better choice for [“The Anderson ___” (1971 Sean Connery movie)] than TAPES. I’d much rather see The Anderson Caper than The Anderson Tapes. And it never occurred to me that Al GORE would be a [Reason for an R-rating, perhaps]. I thought An Inconvenient Truth was PG.

I hang my head with deep shame as I confess that I wanted GREEN HORNET as the answer to [Lamont Cranston’s alter ego, with “The”] instead of SHADOW. I’m convinced that if you randomly stuck this clue in front of me, I’d get it within a second 99 times out of 100. Alas, today was number 100.

Both of long Downs tickled me more than any of the theme entries. ANKLE-BITER, another term for a [Rugrat], has always struck my “inappropriately funny” bone, so I loved seeing it here. PAPER TIGER, the [Toothless threat] is likewise great. I like SYNDROME but the clue, [Broken heart, for one], really made me work for it. I needed lots of crossings before the proverbial light bulb lit.

Favorite entry = PENNY, [Leonard and Sheldon’s neighbor on “The Big Bang Theory”]. It may be the only studio-audience-laugh-track sitcom on television today that’s any good. Favorite clue = [They’re chased by an ambulance chaser] for CLIENTS.

Michael Dewey’s Los Angeles Times crossword — Gareth’s review

Michael Dewey has an A+ theme idea in my book! Four parts of a knight’s protection are found in long theme answers: RUNSTHEGAUNTLET, HELMETTOHELMET, SHIELDONESEYES and CHINKINTHEARMOR. It’s nice to see a categories theme with a discrete set of interesting answers; However, it comes with quite a lot of inconsistency to overlook. The first three objections are all minor and don’t bother me at all. Yes, the answers aren’t consistently placed within the phrases two at the end, one at the beginning and one bookending the phrase; and HELMET repeats; and some of the phrases use the theme part in the original sense, e.g. CHINKINTHEARMOR. But so what? I’m perfectly fine with those in the pursuit of a novel theme. However, GAUNTLETS and a HELMET are subtypes of ARMOR [sic]… That’s a bit of a flaw (ahem, CHINKINTHEARMOR) I’d say… Probably I’m just nit-picking though… And we do get four lively phrases, so it’s all good!

Last bit of grumbling then I’m done. I know it’s a lose-lose scenario, but having ATF and ACHT in the bottom-left rankled a bit. Very easy to avoid if you don’t introduce a J and an X. Of course then you lose the bits of colour that FIJI and TWIX introduce. Like I said, a lose-lose situation, although Mr. Dewey did painlessly fit in a J, an X and a V in the opposite corner so it can be done.


  • I always appreciate new clues for EWES, and [Shorn shes] is a doozie!
  • My strangest knee-jerk answer was, off SU, wanting to write SUrly not SUAVE for [Like James Bond.] Make of that what you will.
  • “If IHAD a nickel…” I’d nickel in the morning…
  • [Lining with decorative rock] is not really the meaning of STONING that leaps first into my head. Rather, I think of Stephen in the book of Acts.

I know everybody is craving to hear the song in the clue for YARROW, “Peter who co-wrote ‘Puff, the Magic Dragon’” so I’ll leave on that note!

Patrick Blindauer’s October website puzzle — Matt’s Review

October’s Blindauer puzzle is up, and the theme trick is quite subtle…maybe a little too subtle? Here are the theme entries, each bearing an asterisk:

I did not receive this message

17-a [*Hit AMC show] = MAD MEN
18-a [*Librarian’s workplace] = HELP DESK
30-a [*Piece of sanding gear] = DUST MASK
39/41-a [Red alert?] = STOP SIGN. Nice clue.
54-a [*Classified announcement] = YARD SALE
64-a [*What some egotists think they are] = GOD’S GIFT. Doesn’t feel quite right as a stand-alone; needs “to women” or “to men” or “to music fans everywhere.”
68-a [*Animated film of 2002] = ICE AGE

My crossword schedule has been heavy lately so I had to concede on this one after less than half an hour. I just couldn’t see any link among the seven asterisked phrases, and the two alternative titles the author provided — “Twin-Twin Situation” and “Common Sense” didn’t turn any light bulbs on, either. Finally Patrick explained the idea: there’s a hidden MESSAGE in the seven theme entries, found by the common letter (in a common place) in each two-word phrase.

So the M in MAD and MEN is the only common letter between the two, and it’s also the first letter in both. The E in HELP and DESK is their only common letter, and they’re both in the same place in their words (second, here) as well. Similarly with S, S, A, G and E in the remaining five entries, and there’s your hidden message.

I’m not sure I ever would have gotten this, and for once I’m not crazy about a Blindauer website puzzle. Two main gripes: 1) the MESSAGE-hiding mechanism is so subtle that I think the puzzle needs explicit instructions (“you’re looking for a hidden seven-letter word,” e.g.) instead of just the asterisks, and 2) even then the gimmick doesn’t feel that tight because there are a lot of two-word phrases that would work for many of these. CARD GAME for YARD SALE, THE ONE for ICE AGE, SLAP SHOT for STOP SIGN, and so on.

I’ll grant that the restriction looks a little tighter now that I try to come up with my own alternatives — remember that the two can’t share any other letters besides the “twin”. For instance, I can’t find a good alt-entry for MAD MEN or GOD’S GIFT. But it’s still not something that would’ve jumped out at me since there are too many other possibilities for most of the seven.

A stingy and whiny 3.60 stars from me. I expect an upper-deck home run every single month and when I don’t get it I complain in public. You?

Deb Amlen’s Onion AV Club crossword

Onion AV Club crossword solution, 10 3 12

Quickly, because I want to blog this puzzle and blog the Fireball for tomorrow’s post before the NYT puzzle comes out in … 33 minutes.

The theme is travel:

  • 20a. [Visit to one’s parents, even though you could’ve gone somewhere fun instead?], GUILT TRIP.
  • 52a. [Journey for cats?], TOM CRUISE. Cats love water.
  • 10d. [Journey with the top off?], FLASH DRIVE. Ha!
  • 29d. [Journey with a beverage cart?], WINE FLIGHT. Hic!

Highlights: “SO THERE,” FISH TACO (let us not speak of the clue; somebody was just telling me they made some terrific tilapia tacos and I regret that I didn’t ask for the recipe), non-Reese PEE-WEE (26a. [Paul Reubens alter ego who laid low for a while after the public masturbation bust]), the clue [A finger in the air might connote one] for IDEA, and the return to the Biblical ONAN clue angle I learned in my youth, [Bible character killed for spilling his seed]. When I was 12, I didn’t know what “seed spiller” meant (birdseed?), but eventually I learned. And now? It keeps getting clued as the partial ON AN. Boo! More seed spilling. (See also 49d: YANKS.)

New-to-me name: 34d. [Footballer Hazard of Chelsea], EDEN.

3.5 stars.

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21 Responses to Wednesday, 10/3/12

  1. Elaine says:

    High art was the one that clunked for me. Giving the ‘high sign’ is old, old, old IMHO; heard it forever, and I’m old (old, old.)

  2. Huda says:

    I didn’t know HIGH TEST.

    And is HIGHTAIL 1 word or 2?

    I took me a long time to parse the revealer clue…

    • pannonica says:

      Huda: “High test” is a vintage term for “super” or “premium” (high octane) gasoline. In my world, “hightail” is one word, a verb; as in, “Let’s hightail it (out of here)!”

      Amy: The High Sign is most memorable to me as a Buster Keaton short (although it’s far from his best).

  3. Evad says:

    I’m a HOORAY man, myself.

  4. pannonica says:

    CS: Isn’t The Anderson Caper in the employ of CNN?

  5. Jan (danjan) says:

    A minor correction on MASS CARD. The link gives a good description, but the laminated (or not) cards that are given out at funerals are not called mass cards. They are called memorial, remembrance, or prayer cards and as you said, they usually have the name, dates of birth and death, and a prayer on one side and religious artwork on the other. A Mass card doesn’t only have to be obtained for Masses in remembrance of the dead. There are other occasions for which one can request a Mass, e.g. healing, celebration of a special event.

    • Sparky says:

      This is the right description. The St. Francis Breadline has non-sectarian cards available. A worthy charity.

  6. Sean P says:

    Not a banner day in puzzles. The CS theme felt inconsistent, with three theme words (BUG, WORM, VIRUS) that essentially mean the same thing, and then … CRASH. Moreover, the way that words like BUG and WORM are used in computing are metaphors taken from the language of human illness, and this theme merely returns to that language, which left me feeling very “so?”

    Onion, meanwhile, was just plain hokey.

  7. Daniel Myers says:

    I suppose I must be the only one to have written many a love eMAIL beginning with DEAREST. No?

  8. Papa John says:

    How is it possible that one can live through six decades and be so wrong, wrong, wrong?!?!

    I have always thought “high sign” was “hi sign”. Is it possible that I have never seen it written out? In a way, “hi” actually makes more sense, since a high sign is a way of acknowledging or prompting a certain action via a silent gesture, much like waving hello.

    • pannonica says:

      Arguments for “high” spelling: since it’s also keenly associated with a warning (as well as acknowledgment, which is not really the same as greeting), there are what I think are the concepts of “high alert,” it being “high time” to act (culmination or lateness, and something being of “high” importance.

      One of my favorites is the nose tap in The Sting.

  9. Gareth says:

    Both HIGHTEST and HIGHSIGN meant nothing to me either, impressive quantity of theme though! Also didn’t know what a JUMPBALL was, seems to be a basketball term… The square where it crossed THE?ETS was tough (Mets? Nets? Jets?) Also never heard of Rhames or Duz… All considered, those four big corners are very nicely filled!! Oh, also, poor HANA Mandlikova, she wins four grand slam tournaments, is only Wimbledon off a career Grand Slam, and still she gets booed at when she appears in crosswords! !

  10. ArtLvr says:

    I think Gareth missed the LANCE at 37A in the LAT’s accoutrements-for-a-knight theme?

    • Gareth says:

      I didn’t miss it, though I didn’t mention it in the write-up. I considered it the revealer rather than another entry; it could have been an entry though, if it were say LANCEARMSTRONG…

      • ArtLvr says:

        Oh, okay — Revealer can be in the title or inside the puzzle, agreed. I just skipped the rest of the long clue after Cyclist Armstrong….

  11. Cmm says:

    @ artlvr yeah I was thinking more “things one who jousts would wear”

  12. Petras says:

    In the film “Papillon”, the story takes place in a penal colony, as opposed to a leper colony.

  13. Roger says:

    OK, I’ll say it, since no one else has: I’ve never seen TWAT in a crossword before. Maybe BEQ has used it and I missed it. Possible.

  14. Todd G says:

    Amazingly relevant, given today’s LAT puzzle, RIP R. B. Greaves, best known for the 1969 single Take A Letter Maria.

  15. zroxpct says:

    Some of us try to solve without Google. Amien’s Onion was not fun, 6d and 66a.
    I see ridiculously short solve times. Does anyone solve without the www anymore? My rules are answers only out of my brain and those I can speak with in person.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      @zroxpct: Have you been doing multiple crosswords every day for years? I have, so OP ART and DYNE were pretty much gimmes because I’ve seen similar clues in other puzzles, and the entries are not that uncommon.

      I do find myself compelled to Google clues on one or two puzzles a year, most often of the Newsday Saturday Stumper variety. When I do Google, I say so clearly in my blog post. The solving times you see posted at Dan Feyer’s blog come from some of the nation’s fastest solvers, so those times do appear ridiculous but are likely to be completely fair and valid. Remember that Dan Feyer can solve a Monday Newsday puzzle in about a minute.

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