Wednesday, February 13, 2013

NYT 3:59 
CS 4:58 (Sam) 
Tausig untimed 
LAT 4:36 (Gareth) 

Richard and Judith Martin’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword answers, 2 13 13, #0213

At first I thought this puzzle was by Miss Manners and her husband, but that Judith Martin is married to a Robert Martin, not Richard. In other news, the Sam Donaldson who makes crosswords and reviews them here is not the one from ABC News.

Before I review the theme, let me put this out there: 41a. [El Al hub city] is LOD and 38d. [Pittsburgh radio station since 1920, said to be the world’s first] is KDKA. I have never heard of the latter and learned the other from crosswords, but even with that old crossword knowledge, I still paused for a seeming eternity. It’s so bizarre for me to hit a mystery square in a Wednesday puzzle. The only Pennsylvania radio station I know is WHYY, the public radio home of Terry Gross’s Fresh Air show. Why does KDKA start with a K instead of a W? It’s weird. Oh! And if you don’t know the skinny dog called the SALUKI ([Greyhound lookalike]), it’s the mascot for Southern Illinois University and Illinoisans know it. Given the lack of help KDKA provides, though, if you can’t complete SALU*I on your own, you’re in trouble.

Okay. The theme is “add GED”:

  • 17a. [Senior softballers, e.g.?], THE AGED TEAM. You want them on your side when the RACE WAR (20a: [“The Turner Diaries” conflict]) comes, don’t you? I cannot believe RACE WAR is in the puzzle. *shudder*
  • 25a. [K-9 Corps member?], BADGED DOG.
  • 36a. [Former first lady sporting a different outfit?], JACKIE CHANGED. Nobody would ever refer to someone as “[name] changed” because they changed their clothes. Not sure why this isn’t clued as a verb phrase. It would be the only non-noun theme answer, but it would make more sense.
  • 51a. [Small-screen performance of “Hamlet,” e.g.?], TV TRAGEDY.
  • 60a. [King, queen or jack?], VISAGED CARD. Dictionary tells me visaged needs to be used in combination to form adjectives. As in “a stern-visaged crossword reviewer.”
  • 44d. [Many a H.S. dropout’s goal … and what’s added to 17-, 25-, 36-, 51- and 60-Across], GED?

Now, I’m perplexed as to why the “getting your GED” concept isn’t evoked here in the theme revealer, as the revealer we have doesn’t explain why those letters would be added to anything. And I’m a bit put off by TRAgedY taking the GED in the midst of the word and all the other themers tacking it on at the end of a word.

You know how pannonica’s reviews discuss the CAP Quotient, of crosswordese, abbreviations, and partials? The CAPs are well represented tonight: OCT, SRO, ETA, LAT, DAR, PCT, DSL, EMAJ, maybe TWA, DNA, REW, and DRS are our abbrevs. We have two partials, AT A and A DRAG (peculiar clue, 21d. [“What ___” (“Ho-hum”)]—I would say “what a drag” for something that was a hassle and a waste of time, and “ho-hum” for something that was yawn-inducingly dull). In the crosswordese category, I put the following: RHO, AEON, DENEB, LOD, BAHT, ETE, -ITE, LAH, OREAD, YEGGS. Then the General Unpleasantness Quotient gathers RACE WAR, MUGABE, roll-your-own SCARER, KDKA, LET DIE, and plural ERROLS. I once met a young woman from Zimbabwe and told her I thought it was ridiculous that so many people die prematurely and yet Mugabe continues on into his late old age, never struck down by a stroke or heart attack or cancer. Not that I wish disease or death on anyone, but dictators should retire young.

Anyone else have the end of 11d: [Dash component], ——METER, and try to figure out what possible unit of a 100-meter dash this could be? Car dashboard, SPEEDOMETER. The clue totally duped me.

I am going to take commenter Huda’s suggestion and make a mental note of my star rating, so as to avoid influencing voters. She asked if the averages were so close to my ratings because people were swayed by my remarks, or if I just accurately peg the general reaction to a puzzle. So in lieu of a star rating, I’ll just say that the theme missed a few opportunities to be better, and the fill left me wishing for something different.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Adjoining Sweets”- Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, February 13

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today is Sam’s birthday!) Remember those ads for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups when a person carrying peanut butter collides with a person carrying chocolate? “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!” Today’s puzzle is a similar mash-up of sweetness, as each theme entry combines two candies to form three new, whimsical phrases:

  • 20-Across: A Chunky bar combines with Pop Rocks to form CHUNKY POP ROCKS, clued as [Heavyweight dad is way cool?].
  • 37-Across: What do you call [Beefcake giggles?] You call them BIG HUNK SNICKERS, that’s what. I’ve seen Big Hunk bars but I can’t say I’ve ever tasted one. Snickers and I, however, are on a first-name basis.
  • 48-Across: The [Contraction in Earth’s galaxy?] is the MILKY WAY CRUNCH. I usually think of “crunches” as unpleasant abdominal exercises, so I’m happy to see a different take on the term here.

The two most important qualities of completely contrived theme entries are entertainment and remote plausibility. First, the whimsical theme entries should provide a modicum of amusement or display some cleverness. Second, they should be phrases you could actually imagine someone saying, even if it would require a very specific context. Thus, BUTTERFINGER JUNIOR MINTS would be an awful theme entry not only because it would require a 23×23 grid but more importantly because it makes no sense. The theme entries here, though, work just fine.

Favorite entry = CARFAX, clued as [“Show me the ___ (advertising slogan)]. Great entry! Favorite clue = [567-68-0515, for Pres. Nixon] for SSN. Yes it’s a gimme, but it’s a fresh clue for a very common crossword entry.

Janice Luttrell and Patt Varol’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LAT 130213

Top-notch theme execution today by Ms. Luttrell and Ms. Varol! Patti Varol we all know, both as a constructor and as Rich Norris’ Commander Riker. Janice Luttrell’s name was less familiar to me, so I went through Fiend archives. This is her third LAT. If you need a refresher, here are her first and second puzzles. Oddly, she’s gone Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday so far.

Oh yes, the puzzle itself. DOUBLEFEATURE seemed to be implying FEATURE is in someway doubled, but in fact, the four theme entries are two-part compounds, both parts of which can be prefaced by DOUBLE. This is a well-worn crossword trope, but where the puzzle excels is that a) all the answers are fun and none forced, b) none of the doubles feel forced as phrases either. This is deceptively difficult to achieve, and something you possibly won’t appreciate unless you’ve attempted to make such a puzzle. Brava!

Here’s the obligatory theme entry list:

  • 17a, [Titanic compartment on the lowest level], BOILERROOM
  • 26a, [Setup of a sort], BLINDDATE
  • 50a, [Country kitchen design option], DUTCHDOOR
  • 60a, [Verify], CROSSCHECK

An olio of other musings:

  • 19a, [“All ___”: 1931 tune], OFME. I dunno about that, I think of this horrendous late-’80s pop tune. Don’t follow the link unless you enjoy hate-listening.
  • 25d, [Mark on an otherwise perfect record?], ONEB is a cute clue, but the answer is utterly contrived, which makes it fall flat, IMO. It forms an awkward pair with 41a, [1% of a cool mil], TENG. I’d have gone with FENG myself…
  • 11d, [Didn’t quite close], LEFTAJAR is a creative answer. I went for LEFTAGAP initially…
  • 18d, [Film Volkswagen with “53” painted on it], LOVEBUG. Top-notch answer!
  • 36d, [Spa treatment], MUDBATH. Another great answer and another that I fluffed initially, going for MUDpAck.

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Hidden Codes”

Ben Tausig, Ink Well crossword solution, 2 13 13 “Hidden Codes”

When I test-solved this puzzle, there were no circles to highlight where the codes were. I spent too long trying to find the last “hidden code,” as the 3-letter ones primed me to expect another 3-letter code and I couldn’t see “QR code” for the life of me.

Who knew the NAZI PARTY had ZIP in it?

  • 20a. [2003 book subtitled “The Dark Side of the All-American Meal”], FAST FOOD NATION. DNA holds our genetic code.
  • 34a. [Third Reich group], NAZI PARTY. ZIP codes are part of a postal program of zone improvement, of course. Did you notice that the other theme clues all begin with years? The Nazis don’t deserve a year.
  • 40a. [1978 stoner film with “Low Rider” on its soundtrack], UP IN SMOKE. Cheech and Chong! Your PIN number is a security code.
  • 52a. [2002 act that refers to “weapons of mass destruction”], IRAQ RESOLUTION. A QR code is one of those blotchy squares you’re supposed to scan with your smartphone’s camera to be taken straight to a website. The best QR codes, of course, are the ones on billboards beside highways.


  • 4d. [He was Will Hunting, Private Ryan, and Mr. Ripley], MATT DAMON.
  • 42a. [Job-type’s question], “WHY ME?” That’s biblical Job, not a career-type job.
  • 10d. [Negro Leagues great Buck], O’NEIL. He utterly charmed me in the Ken Burns documentary, Baseball.
  • 31d. [Provocatively named clothier], FCUK. This amuses the 12-year-old in me.
  • 30d. [Prideful sort?], DYKE. Gay pride, Dykes on Bikes, etc. Here’s the group in the Chicago pride parade in 2011. (The word is fine if it’s not being used as an insult.)

Mystery item:

3.66 stars.

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19 Responses to Wednesday, February 13, 2013

  1. AV says:

    I got stuck on the loD, kDka intersection even though I have passed thru Lod/Ben Gurion.

    • Alan D. says:

      Crazy thing about this intersection was that I had no clue about the D so I was just going to run the alphabet, and when I put in A, I got Mr. Happy Pencil. So not even AcrossLite could believe that letter :-)

  2. Jason F says:

    I didn’t care for the crossing of two CNN personalities – though perhaps the similarity in names might be appreciated by some.

    I lived in Pittsburgh for 6 years, and KDKA is only vaguely (if at all) familiar. That’s really obscure!

    I did get a smile out of “The Aged Team”.

  3. Bruce N. Morton says:

    I didn’t think the puzzle was anywhere near as bad as the consensus, though I agree with Amy’s General Unpleasantness Quotient. But I thought the theme was fresh and amusing and that the puzzle was enjoyable, with some appealingly sticky moments for a Wed. It’s also a Hooker, to pick up on Amy’s terminology. No entry like {HS dropout’s achievement}.

    I am forever puzzled by people’s reactions to puzzles. It seems that strange, obscure words are fine, so long as they are perceived as trendy and ingroupy. Is “mansplain” really a word? Is “lead sheet”? (I assume that’s pronounced “leed” not “led.”) I too have heard men explain things obnoxiously to a woman, where she obviously knows at least as much about the subject as the man, and I find it annoying too, but that doesn’t make it a word. Do they appear in any dictionary? Or is appearing in a dictionary merely a sufficient, not a necessary condition for crossword acceptability? Is being hip and au courant also a sufficient condition? (I’m sure “hip” and “au courant” are not least bit hip or au courant, though one sometimes finds “hip” in a puzzle.)

    Of course language evolves and usage precedes dictionaries. Evolution is both necessary and inevitable but is it necessarily and inevitably a good thing? (I don’t know how many times I’ve looked up e.g. the expressions “meme” and “blue tooth”, but I seem constitutionally incapable of remembering what they mean for more than 10 minutes.)

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Bruce, GED was at 44d with a long revealer clue. No Hooker!

      Mansplain is a portmanteau neologism that has been spreading in the last couple years. The American Dialect Society selected it as one of 2012’s most creative words ( Ask any lexicographer and they’ll tell you that a word doesn’t have to appear in print dictionaries to be a “real” word. It just has to be useful and be used by people. Many words in the dictionary began as neologisms, after all. “Television” was in no dictionaries when the word first appeared, but who would question its legitimacy now? And language evolution is a good thing, because otherwise we’d be hogtied when it comes to expressing ideas and talking about things that didn’t used to exist. Could you get through a standard workday using only Shakespeare’s English, nothing newer?

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Note, too, that MANSPLAIN was in a BEQ puzzle, not a newspaper puzzle. Brendan’s style for his blog puzzles is significantly different from what he uses for his newspaper puzzles. He can be fresh and current and use trendy vocabulary without thinking, “Will a solver in 15 years doing a collection of old puzzles understand this?” The newspaper puzzles need to preference stolidness but Brendan can let his freak flag fly.

        • Huda says:

          Haha, I love this example used to illustrate Mansplain:

          “Even though he knew she had an advanced degree in neuroscience, he felt the need to mansplain “there are molecules in the brain called neurotransmitters””

          I have experienced this very thing… in fact with an applicant using my work to explain an idea to me. All you can say is: Oh, wow, how interesting..

      • Bruce N. Morton says:

        Oops — you’re right. Not a Hooker. I think I got 44d from the crosses and never noticed it. And certainly I agree with most of what you say. Times, societies and cultures change; language is a part of culture and society, not something grafted onto them.

        And by the way, though it probably wasn’t clear, I *liked* that BEQ puzzle — gave it 4*

  4. Huda says:

    Amy thanks for running the experiment!!! I appreciate it, and would love to hear the results!

    NYT: You said: ” dictators should retire young”. Amen to that, except if the plan is for their sons to take their place (no daughter dictators so far, right?).
    One theory I have about today’s puzzle, beyond the crosswordese and unfortunate crosses, is that it’s a subliminal downer. The combination of old age, dental deposits (or kidney stones), high school drop outs, TV tragedy,”let die”, race war, and a dictator is not exactly cheerful. There are a few entries that evoke a more positive state–smores and seesaws, but they don’t counterbalance the vibe.
    Seeing DENEB always takes me a bit by surprise. It means “tail” in Arabic, but the formal term is “Theneb”. The D sound is slang and it is not considered proper in polite company :)

  5. Evad says:

    Did Ben’s AV puzzle before the NYT and it made me then wonder why the answer to “One of a biathlete’s pair” was only three letters….

  6. Alan says:

    As a budding constructor still learning the ropes, I’ve come to learn why sub-par puzzles like today’s NYT come into being – grid design. Inexperienced constructors throw their themes into a grid and are left with impossible sections to fill, resulting in Lod/KDKA crossings. Then they’re reluctant to tear the puzzle apart that they’ve slaved over. The Patrick Berrys of the world have the foresight to recognize problematic areas and can correct them early. I notice that this puzzle has 76 words, so there’s room for another 2. I’m guessing, though, that there’s no room to put another black square (though I haven’t looked at the puzzle that closely to know for sure). That’s another warning sign that the grid isn’t designed well. It’s happened to me many times and it used to make me wonder what was going on. Now, I just ask myself if I can design a better grid and usually I can…problem solved. FWIW.

  7. Gareth says:

    Yeah, I can’t imagine from the letters that our constructors were forced to use MUGABE. Strange idea of something fun to add to a crossword… But if I was going to use MUGABE, I would seriously not cross it with RACEWAR cos well I mean really…

    • Alan says:

      And to clue it with “The Turner Diaries”! I’m a librarian and that book caused all kinds of a ruckus when it came out. Not only was it white supremacist propaganda but as I remember it told you how to make bombs, and such. And it was poorly written. Just a very un-pc clue/answer.

  8. Winnie says:

    There was a picture of a Saluki on the last page of the NYT Sports section, along with many other breeds, however it was one three named. Weird.

  9. Maura says:

    HBD, Sam!
    Thanks for all the sweetness you add to my crossword pleasure every day with your wonderful blog entries.

  10. Rock says:

    Happy Birthday to Sam! Go ahead and have that Butterfinger Junior Mint, they’re refreshing!!

  11. Martin says:

    Ben is in good company since most editors have made the same mistake, but the + terminal of a D-cell, for instance, is the cathode, unless it’s rechargeable in which case it’s the anode only when it’s in the charger.

    Depending on where you drink that may not win you any bar bets, but it might help with your kid’s homework.

    Most editors have heard about my “Keep + and – out of ANODE Clues” campaign.

  12. Jim O'Neill says:

    “Why does KDKA begin with a K?” KDKA was on the air before the Mississippi was designated as the “call letter” border between Eastern radio stations that begin with a W and those to the West that begin with a K — sort of an earlier version of bandwidth deliberations.

  13. Lois says:

    I was far out of the mainstream on the NYT puzzle, as it was the only NYT one I loved out of the whole week. I thought the theme answers were funny and interesting. Anyone who docked it one star because of the evil crossing, well I can’t blame him or her because I got that one wrong too. The other criticisms are too technical for me to understand (as described in Alan’s posting). Crosswordese doesn’t bother me, indeed it might be helpful, as long as I know those answers and there are other interesting things going on. Just wanted to write in about this one because of the extra hammering over the course of the week, what with Amy’s ratings experiments and all.

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