Thursday, January 24, 2013

NYT 4:38 
AV Club 5:34 
LAT 3:30ish 
Fireball 5ish 
BEQ 6:33 (Matt) 
CS 5:44 (Sam) 

Michael Shteyman’s New York Times crossword

NYT crossword answers, 1 24 13, 0124

This puzzle is basically a themeless puzzle (72 words, open grid) that happens to have a six-piece mini-theme: phrases that end with -TRA, and which are matrixed together into one single maze of answers:

  • 19a. [Subject of a 2010 biography subtitled “The Voice”], FRANK SINATRA
  • 39a. [Tabloid TV show co-hosted by Mario Lopez], EXTRA
  • 55a. [Compact since 1982], NISSAN SENTRA
  • 11d. [Dangerous family], COSA NOSTRA
  • 20d. [Colorful fish], NEON TETRA
  • 29d. [Affair of the 1980s], IRAN-CONTRA

The non-TRA fill has some juicy stuff amid a lot of arid material. I like BANANAS and FAVICON (see a little orange in front of the URL up there? that’s a favicon), PEA COAT and PIT STOP, YOWZA, Porsche CARRERA, EMBASSY / SUITES, and SWAINS (though I think of SWAINS as young men engaged in wooing rather than [Country lads]).

I have never encountered, to my recollection, the word DESCANT (66a. [Decorative melody added above a simple musical theme]). ADSORBS, Port SAID, AGRA, ERICS, ABUTTAL, BOFF, A PAR, UAR, ORT, and RONI, I could do without.

This was weird for a Thursday theme because there’s no backhanded wordplay going on, no hidden games. Right? Unless I’m missing something, it’s just “these things all end with TRA and they are defined straightforwardly.” Where’s the fun in that?

I dispute LADY DI being correct as the answer to 25d: [She was on the cover of back-to-back issues of Time in September 1997]. This was just after Princess Diana died. She hadn’t officially been “Lady Di” since before her 1981 wedding, not even after the divorce. Wikipedia explains, “as she was no longer married to the Prince of Wales, Diana lost the style Her Royal Highness and instead was styled Diana, Princess of Wales. As the mother of the prince expected to one day ascend the thrones, she was accorded the same precedence she enjoyed during her marriage.”

Favorite clues:

  • 33a. [It may have one or two sides], ENTREE.
  • 42a. [“Broccoli again?,” e.g.], MOAN. I never serve broccoli as a side.

3.25 stars. Not as rewarding a solve as one hopes for on a Thursday.

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Rounds of the Game”

Contest puzzle! So no answers this week, and no chit-chat. I solved the crossword proper in, I dunno, somewhere around 5 minutes. Then I looked at the starred answers and I read the meta instructions, threw up my hands, and promptly emailed Evad and Matt to see if one of those meta-heads wanted to blog this one next week. Matt volunteered immediately, having admired the puzzle when test-solving it. At this point, I have zero idea what avenue to take for the meta and I’m putting the puzzle aside.

Updated Thursday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “It’s a Guy Thing”- Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, January 24

Here’s a variation on the old Wheel of Fortune “before and after” gimmick where each of the three theme entries begins with MR., the shortened form of “mister:”

  • 17-Across: “Mr. Right” and “right-wing” combine to form MR. RIGHT WING, the [Hall full of handsome hunks?]. They should use that term to refer to the section of the house on The Bachelorette where all of the contestants sleep.
  • 41-Across: “Mr. Peanut” and a “peanut gallery” merge into MR. PEANUT GALLERY, the [Pictures of a Planters mascot]. Hopefully there are some candids in the gallery, because Mr. Peanut is especially nutty when he comes out of his shell. (Thank you, thank you. I’m here all week.)
  • 58-Across: “Mr. Big” (from Sex and the City, maybe?) joins a childhood fave, Big Wheels, to make MR. BIG WHEELS, the [Limo for the boss?].

With just 37 squares devoted to the theme, there’s a lot of room for sparkly fill. The long Downs, CANNED HEAT and SUPER-SIZED, are great fun, even though I’ve never heard of the [Boogie band that played at Woodstock]. (I’ll leave it to you to figure out which answer matches the clue.)

Given the low theme density, I’m mildly surprised with entries like ALAI and INIT (clued as a [Monogram part (abbr.)] instead of something like [Having a chance to win]). There’s also a high concentration of proper names, but that sort of thing never bothers me. The only ones that gave me pause were the instersection of EDD [Byrnes of “77 Sunset Strip”] and TODD, of whom we are told that [He gave Lisa noogies in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch]. Must be from a season I didn’t watch (there are many, alas).

Favorite entry = FISSURE, the [Narrow gap]. Favorite clue = [Courtroom rapper] for a GAVEL. The image of an artist rapping in a courtroom keeps sticking with me. Is this an eyeworm?

Michael Sharp’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 1 24 13

You know all those unfamiliar *EY words that are crossword regulars? The REY and BEY and is-she-still-acting Susan DEY? They are here with thematic purpose this time, as *AY words are changed into sound-alike *EY words:

  • 17a. [Luminous Spanish king?], REY OF LIGHT. Wouldn’t that be a rey de la luz or something?
  • 29a. [Chart containing only threes?], TREY TABLE. We’re going to need that in the upright and locked position, folks.
  • 49a. [Turkish sty leader?], BEY OF PIGS. Ha! That’s … weird. And funny.
  • 61a. [Rock in actress Susan’s path, perhaps?], DEY TRIPPER.
  • 10d. [Casual greeting craze?], HEY FEVER.
  • 39d. [How owls know when mice are bluffing?], PREY TELL. Nice. Owls and mice playing poker; owl always wins.

The base phrases are mostly a lively batch—ray of light, boring tray table, Bay of Pigs, “Day Tripper,” hay fever, and “pray tell.”

I’m a little surprised to see the clue for NAE repeating a theme answer key word: 20a. [Lassie’s “In a pig’s eye!”].

Best clues:

  • 38a. [Groggy response], I’M UP.
  • 47a. [KoKo or Yum-Yum, in Lilian Jackson Braun mysteries], CAT.
  • 6d. [Teens conflict, briefly], WWI. So soon after acne treatment OXY, were you thinking of teenagers rather than the 1910s?
  • 62d. [Brown in a bed], TAN.

Best fill: IPHONE, GET-GO, CLENCH, “THAT SO?,” SCRAGS, POTPIE, and Michael’s shoutout to his wife’s native land at 1-Across, MAORI. Worst fill: HASP atop EWER, NAE plus TAM (limit one Scottishism per customer, please), Pea-less SWEE, avis-less RARA, AHS, SYNE, ECU, PCT.

Overall, it’s got a 3.66 stars kind of vibe.

Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “Day Shift” — Matt’s review

Started this one in the upper-left, where I saw that we had a wacky wordplay theme going on. SEAM HERE fell quickly and then TAME BUILDING, but I had time to notice the nice clue [Chick with 18 Grammys] for COREA and the nice entry HAS DIBS [Lays a claim (on)]. Heading east wasn’t working so I went south, where THE APOSTLES broke things open (Matthew is one of them, so I wasn’t going to miss that). Did you know that Sean CONNERY was People’s Sexiest Man of the Century? Now you do.

Swung around that wide-open corner quickly; had to guess at the I in MELINA/RICO but it was intuitive. LOW SNAP [Cause of a flubbed field goal, often] is a great entry and I also liked PRECIP and PAN IN down there. Blitzed through the center with AMBLE CANADA [Take a leisurely stroll through the Great White North?] and then knocked out the pretty and pretty easy NE corner, especially digging the poorly-behaved John MCENROE (getting his comeuppance at the link there).

Bottom right fell last, as it often does. HATE SEX is good, though I’ve usually heard that phrase with a more graphic noun instead of SEX. The last two themers (ENTRANCE AMEX and FAUX IAMS) fell and I was done in under 7 minutes.

I looked at the theme quintet for a couple of minutes but had to IM the puzzle’s author to find out what was going on:

10:51 AM me: hey
not sure I quite grok the theme today
can u enlighten me?
10:52 AM Brendan: AM (day) is shifted (moved to another part) of the word
me: aha, OK
thanks — I thought you were going for just shifting the M, which didn’t make sense and wasn’t even true
OK, off to blog

And here we are. Reasonable theme, nice fill, fun clues, 4 stars.

Byron Walden’s American Values Club crossword, “Intermezzos”

AV Club crossword solution, 1 24 13 “Intermezzos”

Each theme answer has two intermezzos spelling TERM, because 2 TERMS is [What President Obama has in common with this puzzle’s theme entries]:

  • 18a. [Ticket writer in skinny jeans and black glasses?], HIPSTER METER MAID.
  • 21a. [Furry weasels on the edge of the litter?], OUTERMOST ERMINES.
  • 36a. [When a Hallowe’en DJ might play “Thriller”?], AFTER “MONSTER MASH.”
  • 50a. [Creative genius at a graphic design firm?], POSTER MASTERMIND.
  • 56a. [Stage direction for a nearsighted cartoon character?], ENTER MISTER MAGOO.

Each of the 16-letter theme answers is a contrived phrase that has one TERM fully within a discrete word/phrase and the other connecting the shorter word to the longer word/phrase. The latter TERMs break TER/M four times and T/ERM once. The 2 in 2 TERMS crosses the 2 in 2PAC, although I personally prefer the Tupac spelling.

Assorted 6-, 8-, and 9-letter Down answers smoothly crisscross three theme entries. Did you know 33d: [Lana Turner’s role in “The Postman Always Rings Twice”], CORA SMITH? I did not.

Normally you’d raise an eyebrow at a numerical prefix entry, but I kinda like the DECA/HEPTA pair both clued as [Numerical prefix in an Olympic event]. They are, of course, the -thlons.

Top clues:

  • 30a. [Tie in the sky], BUNGEE CORD. To keep you from plummeting to the earth like a cartoon character when bungee jumping.
  • 2d. [Den offering], OPIUM. Some people call the den their “family room.” Opium optional.
  • 6d. [Drive-in movie holder, perhaps?], CD-ROM. As in the CD drive on a computer.
  • 10d. [Snuggie offering], WARMTH. I really should get a Snuggie.

Much of the fill is, as you’d expect in a puzzle with five full-width theme answers (four of them stacked), on the short and dry side. ONEC OMRI ESSE ELIE ASTA ISY IFI, etc.? There’s not much you can do with those.

Four stars.

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30 Responses to Thursday, January 24, 2013

  1. Evad says:

    I rated the NYT a bit higher due to the above average fill. Kept looking for xword-friendly ATRA, tho!

  2. Daniel Myers says:

    Whilst unfamiliar with DESCANT in its – apparently original – musical context, I’m intimately familiar with it through literature, in the sense of talk or commentary upon a particular subject. I almost always think of the Yeats poem After Long Silence when I see the word.

    • Bruce N. Morton says:

      Daniel, one of my favorite short poems in the English language. Bitterly ironic. “Descant and yet again descant” is what we are reduced to in old age. Bodily decrepitude is SO superior to youthful, loving ignorance.

      But the original context for the word descant is musical; the literary use is borrowed. It arose out of the great 13th century composers and innovators Perotinus and Leoninus who began writing “melismatic organum” (which definitely sounds like something you would find only on pay-per-view :-), which is basically several melodic tones played above a slowly moving plainsong melody or chant. That evolved into a separate “discantus” section of the chant, ultimately leading to 4th and 5th Specie 16th century counterpoint–and the rest is history.

  3. Martin says:

    Those soprano counter-melodies you often hear in the last verses of Xmas carols are descants.


  4. Rob says:

    I liked 30 across, but confused it with lyrics from I Love Rock and Roll. Perhaps “me, yeah me” will be fodder for a future clue.

  5. Ethan says:

    Of course the NYT is a gem, Mike simply doesn’t have it in him to make a bad puzzle. The appearance of Port Said is quite timely, actually, the verdict from the Port Said Stadium massacre/disaster is due to be handed down on Saturday.

    Amy’s “Lady Di” complaint reminds me of a furious Trivial Pursuit argument in college. “What was the Great Gatsby’s first name?” Is “James” an acceptable answer? We sure thought so. His name used to be James Gatz. Of course, he changed his name to Jay Gatsby. So technically he was not James at the same time he was the Great Gatsby, although it’s the same person. Lady Di is the same person as the woman who was on the cover of Time in 1997. Fun with the thorny philosophical issue of referential opacity.

    • john farmer says:

      If the question is “Where did the Great Gatsby go to college?” is the correct answer “The Great Gatsby never went to college” or “St. Olaf,” where James Gatz was enrolled for a while before dropping out?

      Normally, puzzles should be careful with people who change names or titles (Clay/Ali, Alcindor/Jabbar, etc.). In everyday life, though, we think of the person as the same whatever the name. An old friend may call my wife by her maiden name. Identities tend to be overlapping, not so much a case of one or the other.

      I’m no expert on royal styles, but the Wikipedia page tends to give support for the answer in the puzzle:

      Posthumously, as in life, she is most popularly referred to as “Princess Diana”, a title not formally correct and a title she never held.[fn 4] Still, she is sometimes referred to (according to the tradition of using maiden names after death) in the media as “Lady Diana Spencer”, or simply as “Lady Di”. Due to a speech of Tony Blair, she was also often referred to as the People’s Princess.[118]

      Diana’s full title, while married, was: Her Royal Highness The Princess Charles Philip Arthur George, Princess of Wales and Countess of Chester, Duchess of Cornwall, Duchess of Rothesay, Countess of Carrick, Baroness of Renfrew, Lady of the Isles, Princess of Scotland.

      No doubt that would be a lot to fit in a crossword.

  6. Matthew G. says:

    I’m with Daniel on this one. I like a light theme/borderline themeless puzzle on a Thursday, if the fill is good, which it mostly was. A nice break from Thursday stunt puzzles.

    Amy, I had the same reaction to LADY DI as you did. Even setting aside formal style rules, I recall that that nickname for her already felt dated by the late 1980s, let alone the time of her death.

  7. Sarah Cohen says:

    Byron’s AV puzzle has to be an early puzzle-of-the-year contender. Seventy-five theme squares, a unique and clever concept with funny entries, and still the fill feels clean! And the difficulty level was exactly right for me. An impressive feat.

  8. Gareth says:

    The family car growing up was a Nissan Sentra. It was replaced by a Maxima, and even now my father drives an X-Trail.

    Dey Tripper made me LOL.

    • Bruce N. Morton says:

      Leading, of course, to the expression “Mea Maxima Culpa” coined by a Latin professor involved in a fender bender.

  9. Matt Gaffney says:

    Peter’s Fireball and Byron’s American Values are both pretty great.

    • Christopher Jablonski says:

      Can’t wait for your Fireball writeup. Or, rather, I won’t be able to wait once I finally solve this stupid thing.

      • sps says:

        Puzzle of the year. I can’t even imagine how Peter constructed this thing. It’s absolutely brilliant.

  10. Peter Piper says:

    Amy why do you not have a captcha (sic) and Rex has one of the worst or hardest to decode? What is he afraid of? Also where is the blog to fridays WSJ (ball bearing) jan 18 I believe. I see it got 3.45 stars but no review. Golfballman

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Because Google’s Blogger platform doesn’t include a robust spam filter, and Google has opted to use ridiculous captchas to ward off spam comments. We use the Akismet spam filter at this site on the WordPress platform, and Akismet has provided a 99.61% effective filter. Spambots have attempted to leave 186,000 comments that Akismet caught, vs. 29,000 real comments that have been posted. I have no idea why Google, which has a good spam filter in Gmail, does not have a similarly effective approach to blocking spam comments.

      Pannonica was out sick last weekend, so no WSJ post. Nobody even mentioned it until six days later, so I think we’re just going to move on to the new week.

  11. Joe says:

    Please help because I’m feeling like a moron. Can someone please parse the BEQ themer FAUX IAMS for me??

    • David L says:

      I believe it comes from FAUX AMIS, French for “false friends” — a phrase that is surely on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

      Unless it’s FAUX I SAM, in other words SAM I (not) AM…

  12. Michael says:

    So a lot of solvers on various blogs indicated they were looking for a gimmick, some sort of a reveal or payoff at the end. Sorry to disappoint, but theme is just exactly what meets the eye, nothing EXTRA (ha!). It’s just a Tuesday puzzle that got slightly disoriented and ended up making it to the party a few days late. Also, I think of it as a themed crossword that happens to have 72 words and an open grid rather than a themeless that happens to have a theme. Btw, all props go to Will for the MOAN clue.

  13. ArtLvr says:

    Note: we are in the teens again, now that it’s 2013. A new “teens’ conflict” may well be at hand with North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, threatening to target the U.S. with his next nuclear missile in mid-summer this year… Let’s hope his technology continues to result in duds. Or will we end up doing something pre-emptive again?

  14. Peter Piper says:

    Amy thank you for your answer, tho I probably don’t completely understand the captcha answer, my problem. And yes as far as the WSJ lets move on. It was a good and challenging puzzle. Golfballman

  15. Greg says:

    I think Michael gets a bit of extra credit for the two internal “tra”s: “D-Train” and “astray.”

  16. Joe says:

    Sam: “Todd” was Bill Murray as a noogie-dispensing teenager who wore his trousers well above the belt despite his below the belt behavior. Lisa was Gilda Radner.

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