Monday, February 18, 2013

NYT 3:13 (pannonica) 
LAT 3:31 (pannonica) 
BEQ 4:36 
CS 4:47 (Sam) 

Jeffrey Harris’ New York Times crossword — pannonica’s review

NYT • 2/18/13 • Mon • Harris • 2 18 • solution

The revealer at 46-across informs us that a CONTROL GROUP is a [Set of people receiving a placebo, perhaps … or what the ends of 20-, 28- and 41-Across belong to?], yet I’m having trouble parsing this hint unambiguously. More after the customary list.

  • 20a. [Home of the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil] GOBBLER’S KNOB. Hum! I just assumed the place was called Punxsutawney. Wikipedia for the clarification:
    “During the ceremony, which begins well before the winter sunrise (which occurs at 7:26 AM Eastern Standard Time on February 2 in Punxsutawney), Phil emerges from his temporary home on Gobbler’s Knob, located in a rural area about 2 miles (3.2 km) east of town.”
    You know, in light of this I’d say the clue is inaccurate, or not accurate enough. Does this mean six more weeks of cheater squares?
  • 28a. [Simply adorable] CUTE AS A BUTTON.
  • 41a. [Underhanded commercial ploy] BAIT AND SWITCH.

So, returning to my confusion: from the syntax of the revealer it would seem that the entire answer—CONTROL GROUP—describes the ends of the three other themers. Does this mean that the three endings—KNOB, BUTTON, and SWITCH—are to be considered en masse as words that each complete a phrase beginning with CONTROL, or that each may be found in a cluster, such as a group of CONTROL KNOBs, and so on? If the revealer had read “… or a hint to the ends of …” then it would simply be indicating how each ending word can complete a “CONTROL” phrase.

All right, now that I’ve formally laid it out in the course of composing the write-up, it seems  that my first proposed interpretation is the correct one. However, it seems that the puzzle is lacking something if there was ever any question in my mind regarding this essential aspect. Or I could simply be obtuse, which is a not unreasonable conclusion.

Now that I more or less have a handle on the theme, what do I think of it? Eh, it’s okay, so-so. 

Elsewhere in the puzzle, there a couple of long downs: the flashy DECORATE and the uncharacteristically playful double-definition clue for THE BLUES [Low spirits, as experienced by St. Louis’s hockey team?]. The O-C laden OCTOPUS and CANOERS balance out the grid.

The LONE cross-reference of 43a [The White 10-Down’s cry in “Alice in Wonderland”] I’M LATE, and 10d [See 43-Down] RABBIT seems an unnecessary and awkward complication, more so because the informative clue occurs later on (both among the downs and in the bottom half of the grid). I hate when that happens. Perhaps if another cross-reference—say for 57a ALSO and 62a ELSE—were employed, the 10d/43a “problem” wouldn’t feel so stark.

Three more notes:

  • 58a [Arctic or Antarctic] gave me pause because the straightforward POLE didn’t fit. Turns out the words in the clue are independent adjectives, indicating POLAR; that’s a teensy bit tricky for a Monday. 
  • 59a & 36a LILT and TRILL.
  • Would have preferred to see a qualified clue for [Zoo enclosures] CAGES, something to the effect that the steel-barred image evoked is archaic or barbaric, something to that effect.

Average puzzle. Perhaps slightly under par.

Dan Schoenholz’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s review

LAT • 2/18/13 • Mon • Schoenholz • solution

Hey, here’s a neat—nifty and tidy—theme: “before and after”-type answers on (US) presidential surnames.

All famous folks, and the given names and surnames appear in proper order. Good consistency, very well done. Each entry includes a separating OR which—once the pattern is recognized—could conceivably help the solver at an impasse, but since the whole affair is set to Monday-level, that situation shouldn’t arise.

No conflict with the long downs, as we haven’t yet had a President LAWRENCE nor a President KNOTHOLE, though Andrew JACKSON was nicknamed ‘Old Hickory.’ Hot damn, I’d vote for a President Knothole!

Relatively low CAP Quotient™, just A LAW, the tired APER, the long-ago retired (1988) racecar driver CALE Yarborough, and geographical standbys ARNO and AGRA.

ON TOP of the fine theme, the puzzle has a bit more panache than the typical button-down Monday. 

  • [Word with popper or dropper] EYE.
  • [Dreaded business chapter?] ELEVEN.
  • [Pants seam problem] / [Fixes with thread] RIP, SEWS. [Gets things growing] / [Brought to maturity] SEEDS, REARED (which, with a stretch, could be linked back to ‘pants seam problem’).
  • Nice little stack in the southwest, ARABIC / NERUDA, especially with the complementary vcvcvccvcvcv letter pattern. SALAMI / ELEVEN in the northeast does the same thing,, but doesn’t thrill me quite as much.

Very good Monday crossword.

Updated Monday morning:

Alan Arbesfeld’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Hail to the Chiefs”- Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, February 18

Happy President’s Day, everyone! Today’s puzzle offers a tribute to five of the men who have served as President of the United States:

  • 17-Across: The [Honda Civic competitor] is the FORD FOCUS. Hat tip, Gerald Ford.
  • 25-Across: The [1998 Jim Carrey film, with “The”] is TRUMAN SHOW, which had nothing to do with Harry Truman.
  • 36-Across: Hey, how about this–JACKSON HOLE, the [Popular tourist spot in western Wyoming], appears as a theme entry in the CS for the second time in less than a week. Andrew Jackson would be honored.
  • 49-Across: The (heh heh heh) [Lump more prominent in men than in women] (heh heh heh) is an ADAM’S APPLE. Inner Beavis was thinking of something else. (I have a nit to pick with this one–John Adams doesn’t have an apostrophe in his name, but my sources use an apostrophe in “Adam’s Apple.” The inconsistency affected neither my solving time nor my overall enjoyment of the puzzle, but it does stand out (much like an Adam’s Apple, I guess). 
  • 59-Across: A BUSH PILOT is a [Person flying to remote regions], not the person charged with flying either of the former Presidents Bush to their selected destinations.

You may remember that last year we had two puzzles in honor of President’s Day (including one of which I am especially fond). With today’s puzzle, then, maybe we can agree that the theme has been played out fully. What we need now are some more Arbor Day puzzles.

I do like that today’s puzzle includes some other political fill like Nancy PELOSI and Geraldine FERRARO. That’s a nice added layer.

Favorite entry = either OK SHOOT ([Possible reply to “I have a question for you”]) or OVER HERE, clued as [“Psst!”]. Favorite clue = [Company head?] for the letter CEE. Sorry, but [Join the balm squad?] is trying way too hard to be a funny clue for SOOTHE (and if anyone knows about trying way too hard to be funny, it’s yours truly).

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Themeless Monday”

Brendan Quigley 2 18 13

I learnt a new term from this puzzle: 42a. [Modern methodology for testing for doping], BIO PASSPORT. And a new cocktail (I think), 18a. [Scorpion component], ORANGE JUICE. And a style detail on the old EDSEL, 49a. [Car with a vagina-shaped grille].

I made a couple missteps along the way. For 1a. [Popular axe, for short], I thought of the Stratocaster, I did, but then I filled in STRAD, short for Stradivarius. STRAT! And I went with COMPONENTS for 39a. [R&D?] before the CONSONANTS shook out. Nice clue.

A few faves:

  • 29d. Bug-eyed character?], Kafka’s Gregor SAMSA.
  • 28d. Fictional deli of Phoenix], MEL’S, from ’70s sitcom Alice.
  • 24d. Like an opossum’s tail], PREHENSILE. Long a beloved word of mine.

What the hell? 49 + 13 = 62? This is a 62-worder? That explains the preponderance of plurals. While solving, I felt like I was working a somewhat-drier-than-usual 70-word BEQ, but no, Brendan pinned this expansive grid down with just 62 entries. OVERGROW is a seldom-seen word (the adjectival form overgrown is far more common) but it’s entirely legitimate, and it’s the closest thing this puzzle has to a roll-your-own word. Four stars.

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16 Responses to Monday, February 18, 2013

  1. JanglerNPL says:

    Knobs, buttons, and switches are all controls. Thus they belong to a group of controls … a control group, if you will.

  2. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I dunno. CONTROL PANEL has the same letter count and might’ve made for a cuter (more button-like!) theme revealer. I could see trying to twist the KNOB, flip the SWITCH, and press the BUTTON on the crossword’s control panel.

    • JanglerNPL says:

      In hindsight, you (and Deb, and anyone else who made the same point) are probably right — that CONTROL PANEL would have been a better final theme answer, though I still don’t think CONTROL GROUP was a bad one.

  3. Huda says:

    NYT: I agree with Jangler’s interpretation. But I also agree with Panonica that it’s rather awkward. And there’s nothing intrinsically exciting about a CONTROL GROUP, although of course they are essential in research.

    The placebo in the clue is, to me, the most interesting part of the clue/answer combo. The effect of placebo is real, can be quite strong, gets in the way of many drug trials, especially with drugs that try to modify brain disorders (depression, Alzheimer’s Disease, schizophrenia), and there are real biological mechanisms behind it. It would have been fun if it were somewhere in the grid. And a good counterpart would be an inert substance that produces the opposite effect, an exacerbation of the problem: NOCEBO.

    • pannonica says:

      The interpretation I settled on is essentially the same as JanglerNPL‘s, it’s just that my explanation was hopelessly convoluted and garbled. Should have taken some extra time to edit it properly, but was in a minor rush to get the write-up posted (and also to watch a film).

    • Gareth says:

      For those who need clarification JanglerNPL is Jeffrey H.’s nom de blog…

  4. Art Shapiro says:

    I so confidently threw in PENNSYLVANIA on the first pass for Mr. Phil’s abode; what a shock when it turned out to be badly wrong. Never heard of Gobbler’s Knob, and I grew up in Pennsylvania.


  5. AV says:

    I thought CONTROL GROUP was a greate revealer, and got it immediately. Rest of the puzzle was a smooth solve, perfect for a Monday. 4 stars!

    Also liked how the puzzle ends with ENDS.

  6. ArtLvr says:

    Nutty, but I liked the “balm squad” clue… On the other hand, OK SHOOT caused a teensy frisson, even if we normally “shoot” all kinds of things without deadly consequence, like pictures.
    Q: The Daily Rundown today asked what President after Washington and Lincoln is found most often in US place names?
    A: Jackson!

  7. pauer says:

    Nice one, Jeffrey! Here’s to many more.

    And since he’s too modest to mention it, he also has an excellent book of music-themed crosswords available here (and wherever fine books are sold):

  8. Jon Delfin says:

    Note to Sam D: You are very generous. The ADAM’S thing makes the for a broken puzzle in this corner.

  9. tony orbach says:

    Ditto AV & Pauer: I really enjoyed this Monday NYT. The theme phrases were all colorful, evocative ones, and fill was above par for a Monday, with just the right amount of challenge and Scrabble-y-ness and breadth of knowledge/reference. I also liked GROUP vs. PANEL, as it gave a second sense of the phrase in referring to the objects in the other theme entries – with PANEL there’d have been no change which of course would have been fine, too, but I thought this actively added to the interest level.

  10. pannonica says:

    BEQ: Wasn’t Mel’s place a diner, not a deli?

    • john farmer says:

      Mel’s was a diner on the TV show “Alice,” originally Mel & Ruby’s Cafe (as it was in the movie “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”). Mel’s Drive-In was the restaurant in “American Graffiti” — you can still find a few of these Mel’s in L.A.

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