Wednesday, February 20, 2013

NYT 3:44 
LAT 3:39 (Gareth) 
CS 6:45 (Sam) 
Tausig untimed 

John Farmer’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 2 20 13, #0220

The theme is fairly well explained via the puzzle’s notepad entry: “The answer to each starred clue is a compound word or a familiar two-word phrase. A certain four-letter word (spelled out clockwise by the circled squares) can follow the first half and precede the second half of each of these answers, in each case to complete another compound word or familiar two-word phrase.” The 4-letter word is BOOK. Here are the starred theme answers:

  • 17a. [*Approval indicators], CHECKMARKS. Checkbook, bookmarks.
  • 21a. [*Ban], BLACKLIST. Black book, Booklist. Neat that [Ban] works to clue it as both a noun and a verb.
  • 39a. [*December 31], YEAR END. Yearbook, bookend.
  • 55a. [*What a “forever” stamp lacks], FACE VALUE. Facebook, book value.
  • 64a. [*Union supporter?], MATCHMAKER. Matchbook, bookmaker. “Matchmaker, matchmaker, light me a cigarette.”
  • 11d. [*Magazine with an annual Hollywood issue], VANITY FAIR. Vanity book (what is that? a book published by a vanity press, Google suggests), book fair.
  • 28d. [*Sailor], BLUEJACKET. Blue book, book jacket. Bluejacket is unfamiliar to me.

The notepad showed up on the main puzzle page, so I read it in case it was one of those “listen, you really should solve on the PDF this time” notes, but it wasn’t. I usually avoid the notepad until such time as I am befuddled (which may not happen). So with the B in the first square and CHECKMARKS, boom, I knew it was going to be BOOK. Slightly wind-aided solving time, therefore.

Ten more things:

  • 1a. [Balkan land], BOSNIA. Inveterate Sporclers tried to fit ANDHERZEGOVINA into the black square after the A.
  • 10a. [Former Chevy subcompact], AVEO. I knew the O would be in the circled square, but I hadn’t known that the Aveo was now a “former” model.
  • 15a. [Burmese P.M.], U NU. Hoary crosswordese guy. Not the current P.M. Burma has a president now (Sein Thein), and no prime minister. SEIN is a German verb (“to be”) that just about never shows up in crosswords (despite ETRE and ESSE polluting the grid all the dang time), but maybe the Burmese president can bust his name into the crossword mainstream.
  • 31a. [Repeated cry in the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”], HEY! HO! Let’s go! Not to be confused with The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey.”
  • 59a. [2007-08 N.B.A. M.V.P., to fans], KOBE. That “to fans” made me think it was a nickname, but no, just Mr. Bryant’s first name.
  • 71a. [City ESE of the 10-Down], OSH, ESE of the ARAL SEA. Good lord, that’s a terrible concatenation, and the “ESE” isn’t helping.
  • 49d. [Santa Fe or Tucson, in brief], SUV. Ha! I like this sort of tricky clue.
  • 66d. [Wartime stat], M.I.A. Number of people missing in action. That’s … depressing.
  • John doesn’t seem to be updating his movie info blog anymore, but he’s packed this puzzle with movie stuff: FBI AGENT (Johnny Depp’s Public Enemies was filmed in my part of Chicago), Barbara BACH, Annie Hall’s NECKTIE, the AGEES of Hoop Dreams, and FARGO.
  • With a theme square count approaching 70, there’s also a smattering of the blahs: U NU, ORU, INKA, NYER, OSH, KATS, ANYA, one ALP (you never get one Rocky or Ande, do you?), KOH, and ORTS.

3.75 stars.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Eat Your Fruits and Veggies”- Sam Donaldson’s review

CS solution, February 20

Each of the five theme entries in today’s puzzle contains a fruit or vegetable. It’s the hidden word gimmick, but with the twist that the hidden word is different each time. Let’s get our five servings of fruits and vegetables by reviewing the theme entries:

  • 17-Across: To [Clear, as a tear (with a hidden veggie)] is to WIPE AWAY, containing a “pea.” As a kid, I argued that by eating two peas I had eaten two vegetables. I lost.
  • 20-Across: One who [Set up camp (with a hidden fruit)] has PITCHED A TENT; the hidden fruit is a “date.” For the record, an abundance of jokes presented themselves when I originally typed “pitched a tent with a date.” I just want to note my maturity in passing on them.
  • 37-Across: The [Opening night expression (with a hidden veggie)] is BREAK A LEG, inside of which you’ll find “kale.” (I mean “you’ll find the word ‘kale’ inside of ‘break a leg,’ not that if you break open a leg you’ll find kale.)
  • 56-Across: The [Chemical group that included sodium and lithium (with a hidden fruit)] is ALKALI METALS, hiding a “lime” inside. 
  • 62-Across: The [Mailing option (with a hidden veggie)] is BOOK RATE, containing The Official Vegetable of Crosswords, “okra.”

I love the wide open corners in the northeast and southwest, though that lower-left corner proved to be the bear that added 90 seconds to my solving time. I managed to get IDAHOS, the [Baking spuds] and DETEST, to [Dislike with a passion], easily enough, and I was reasonably sure that the METALS in 56-Across were indeed ALKALIs. But I was even more sure that the [Starship Enterprise letters] were USS, and that made the crossing Downs just impossible. [Basic, chemically] turned out to be NON-ACID, but I had ??UA?ID in my grid. That’s an ugly letter sequence, but I couldn’t dismiss it as wrong because I just didn’t see any errors. My grid wanted an answer that fit ??SK?AT for [Consist of], so naturally I hit another wall there. It wasn’t until I tried NIP AT for [Lightly bite] and ON A TEAR for [Zooming] that I realized the answer to [Consist of] was INCLUDE and that the Enterprise letters were instead NCC. Oops. From there the corner finally fell.

I also love how Patrick smushed together the theme entries at the top and bottom. You can’t always get theme entries to cooperate like that, and I would have been too chicken to try. Patrick makes it look effortless, as he usually does.

Favorite entry = ELPHABA, the [“Wicked” heroine]. Favorite clue = [Person who is saving the world?] for PACKRAT. That’s just awesome.

Eric Williams’ Los Angeles Times crossword — Gareth’s review

“LA Times crossword solution, 20 02 13”

The theme is a list. The list is 3 entries long. The three films in the list are ones for which WOODYALLEN received screenwriting Oscars. So sayeth the clue. It’s a neat touch to get two of the down themers to interlock with the middle across spanner, and allows less strain to be placed on fill. I haven’t seen many Woody Allen films, and none of the 3 in the grid, though the names were neverletheless familiar. There’s also a bonus in ANTZ, which although Allen didn’t write, he did star in (vocally).

If you were solving the puzzle in Across Lite like I was, then you probably struggled to read the quotes. For MIDNIGHTINPARIS, the clue reads [2011 film in which Owen Wilson says, “Wonderful but forgettable. That sounds like a picture I’ve seen. I probably wrote it.”] HANNAHAND/HERSISTERS‘ clue reads [1986 film in which Dianne Wiest says, “But you have to remember, while you read and you’re cursing my name, that this is my first script.] ANNIEHALL has the clue [1977 film in which 59-Across says, “Awards! They do nothing but give out awards!”]. I think all 3 quotes are meant to refer back to the theme? If so that’s a neat touch!

Rich Norris is constrained by newspaper space, so the length of the clues in their entirety is limited. I’m guessing that, after the theme clues, there wasn’t much more space left for the rest! So if you’re wondering why the other clues seem brief, that’s the reason.

A brief selection of other answers and I’m done:

  • Both [U2 producer or, backwards, U2 hit] and [Justin Bieber or the golden calf] make use of “or” in interesting ways.
  • [Close-Up, e.g.] for TOOTHPASTE. Wait, it’s sold here!! Is it the same thing? Ours have creepy smiling couples on the tubes!
  • Hands up if you only know that [Simoleons] are MOOLA because of Sim City. What, only me!
  • The clue [Oldest musketeer] may as well have read [Musketeer whose name has five letters]
  • I’ve seen some claim the [Minister’s house] MANSE is obscure crossword-ese. Both churches I’ve attended have pastors who stay at manses. So they definitely are a real life thing!

That’s me for today! See you in the comments!

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword, “Puzzle Shmuzzle”

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well crossword solution, 2 20 13 “Puzzle Shmuzzle”

I wish somebody would combine Snoop Doggisms with Yiddishisms so we could say “Puzzizzle Shmuzzizzle” instead. Ben’s theme just plays around with the Yiddish convention in the title and changes familiar phrases by adding an SH or SCH (either is correct when it comes to transliterating Yiddish words from their original right-to-left Hebrew letters) at the front of a word:

  • 17a. [Department of urology?], SCHLONG DIVISION. Urologists do deal with women’s bladders and kidneys too, you know. But this is funny anyway.
  • 27a. [99% of the toys baby Julius owns, e.g.?], CHILD SCHLOCK. Is it mostly plastic? Was it made in China? One or both of these apply to probably 99% of what’s sold in Toys R Us.
  • 36a. [Woody Allen’s whole thing?], NERVOUS SHTICK. Brilliant! Nervous tic —> SHTICK perfectly encapsulates Woody’s vibe.
  • 45a. [Total jerk lawn care guy?], SCHMUCKRAKER. Many of today’s so-called journalists are in the business of schmuckraking. See: Huffington Post aggregation, linkbait headlines, newspaper homepage links to salacious videos and celebrity gossip.
  • 59a. [Meager cream cheese portion?], SCHMEER PITTANCE. I’m more familiar with the schmear spelling, but my dictionary lists all four ee/ea and sh/sch combos.

Five faves:

  • 19a. [Org. that permits Pete Weber’s post-roll “crotch chop”], PBA. Frankly, I don’t know enough about the crude moves of professional bowlers.
  • 53a. [Acts like a little bitch, perhaps], YIPS like a small female dog. Yappy little male dogs are no less annoying.
  • 66a. [Magazine that started Occupy Wall Street], ADBUSTERS.
  • 25d. [Formed sides, as for teams], CHOSE UP. Choosing up sides, familiar language.
  • 28d. [CA airport with a See’s Candies store], SFO. I looked up the company’s website to confirm that its name was styled correctly here when I test-solved the puzzle. I saw a caramel/marshmallow/chocolate candy reminiscent of a favorite candy from Chicago’s Fannie May. Then I asked my husband to pick some up for me for Valentine’s Day. Then he forgot which candy I wanted and bought two other boxes. Then he went back on Thursday and bought a small box of Carmarshes. And this is why I hold Ben Tausig responsible for the weight gain over the past six days. (We don’t have See’s around here.)

Did not know:

  • 8d. [Developer chemical, in photography], AMIDOL. [“Do you have ___ or Pamprin I can borrow?”: 2 wds.] would work too.
  • 40d. [“Star Wars” race], HUK. I imagine these creatures have fins.

Rating, schmating. I give this puzzle four stars.

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23 Responses to Wednesday, February 20, 2013

  1. AV says:

    The notepad was an annoying intrusion and I hope Will stops this practice (of in-your-face notes) in the future – it would have been a lot more fun to suss out the theme. Would have been a good aha moment since this is a nice twist to the pedestrian words-that-follow/precede themes.

    Bottom line: great puzzle – would be nice to know from JF if he sent these explicit directions.

    [Aside, I did try to avert my eyes once I realized the note was related to the theme, but an annoyingly large fraction of the sentence made its way into my consciousness!].

  2. Huda says:

    NYT: I liked that the Notepad was easy to read, and it’s presence well advertised. Sometimes, I have no idea that there is one. But it should be optional– something that one can click on…

    • Deb Amlen says:

      Hi Huda, and all those who were as surprised as I was to see the notepad on the main puzzle page,

      Being able to click on an optional hint is coming to the new gameplay on the New York Times site. I don’t have an ETA for it, but am told that it is in development.

  3. Huda says:

    NYT: Impressive construction and huge theme density. But some of the stuff was rather opaque (to me, for a Wednesday) and cross-referencing it did not help…

    Good to see the entire ARAL SEA in the grid. Favorite clue: for POSTCARDS

  4. Evad says:

    Amazing construction–7 theme entries with 2 pairs crossing each other with pretty decent fill around them is a masterful stroke. Congrats JF!

    I also could’ve done with without the notepad, especially with the theme revealer called out so prominently by the 4 corner circles. I wish I hadn’t read it before I started solving the puzzle.

    • janie says:

      not only do two pairs cross each other, one of each of those pairs overlaps yet another horizontal theme entry by four letters. that makes for a lotta thematic interlock and a pretty fabulous construction — with a lively puzzle to boot! talk about bang fer buck!


  5. HH says:

    Allow me to clarify something from yesterday’s Responses, specifically my feelings toward “revealers”: The first time I saw a crossword with a revealer I thought “That’s cute” … then I saw three more in the same week. I’ve never known another aspect of crosswords that became so trite so quickly.

    • Gareth says:

      What’s the difference between a revealer and a crossword title (since NYT/LAT dailies aren’t permitted titles)?

      • HH says:

        Probably nothing, except that Sunday puzzles usually have titles & dailies usually don’t. But dailies never used to need revealers, and I prefer a theme that speaks for itself.

  6. Howard B says:

    Nice construction; I think the Notebook compromise is to have it also on the main page, but hidden behind either a clickable popup link or other user-driven clickable reveal, as well as the NOTEPAD icon on the applet. This way, the user has 3 reveal options: Before start of puzzle, anytime during solve, or not at all.

    I was mystified by VANITY book and BOOK list; neither rung a bell for me so took longer to reveal the theme. I dodged the initial Notes upon solving. More fun that way.

    • Zulema says:

      VANITY book is one published by a Vanity press, where the author pays the publisher to have the book published. I seem to remember VANTAGE as one of the first. There are now many. BOOK LISTS are ubiquitous.

      There is definitely an option for not looking at the Notepad. Just don’t go to View or Notepad, but I don’t know about other media you may be using.

  7. Gareth says:

    Seriously impressive construction Mr. Farmer! So much density! I was considering FBIAGENT and POSTCARDS as theme entries too for a while…

  8. john farmer says:

    Quick note about the note. I realize yesterday’s puzzle (yeah, KS & Sara!) works better without a reveal. Same for some other puzzles. Today’s was not one of them. Without a note somewhere, I think the theme would be stumping many solvers. Maybe not many Fiend readers, but others. It’s only Wednesday. Fwiw, the note and circles are Will’s; my submission had a long explanatory note in the clue for DOGEARS, which would have been hard for some to read (as Gareth notes re LAT), and we’d probably be seeing a different sort of complaint. So the note belongs, imo. It is optional, and for whatever reason people are having trouble avoiding it is another matter. That’s my two cents. Thanks for the feedback.

    • AV says:

      Sorry for hijacking the thread by complaining about the note rather than appreciating the puzzle.

      Am back here to say it was a wonderful puzzle (as others have already mentioned) – great theme density, colorful clues, and again, creative twist to a theme (BOOK ends, and now I find DOGEARS were also part of the theme!). Nice!

      • john farmer says:

        Hi, AV. I didn’t see any hijacking done, or apology needed. The idea, I believe, is to share what’s on your mind — which you did. Thanks for the comments.

  9. Bruce N. Morton says:

    Congrats John F. Loved it. Complex, multi-layered theme. A situation where the revealer note generates strong feelings in others, but a shrug from me. I’m OK with or without it.

    One of the funniest Tausigs ever. [Spoiler for unreviewed puzzle deleted], but the clue – answer for “urology. . .” was worth the price of admission alone.

    • Bruce N. Morton says:

      Incidentally, a former bookmaker made book, so there’s another half theme entry.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      See, I’m typically OK without the notepad explanatory paragraph, and like to solve without it. But it ambushed me this time, which isn’t customary. Usually it’s quite easy to dodge it, and I assume it will return to its usual dodgeability.

  10. Zulema says:

    John, I really liked this puzzle, and I appreciated the note because I, for one, am not so interested as other solvers to work out the meanings outside the grid, or however you might call those. Appreciated the note before I started and then it became obvious, and that’s fine. I realize a lot of work went into this puzzle. Yesterday, I didnt find the theme until reading the write-up, and Monday’s I had to read the write-up twice, so I did need a note (but there was no way to incorporate one in either of them). If the puzzle works as a themeless, that’s great, is my take. I solved them for years not realizing thy had themes, except for the Sunday’s, till Peter Abide wised me up.

  11. sbmanion says:

    I am interested in words. I rarely care about the theme as I am solving, but I do take a look at it to see if I can figure it out except when the theme has a lot of circled letters, which I then tend to ignore. I never saw the notepad and solved it, but frankly did not notice the relationship to BOOK until I was almost done.

    It would have been interesting to see if someone would have noticed that the corner squares spelled BOOK if there had been no underlining and no notepad.

    I thought that this was the rare combination of a great solve and a great feat of construction.


  12. Lois says:

    I also liked the note, and probably needed it. I also didn’t understand the Tuesday NYT theme before reading Amy.

  13. Mel Park says:

    It’s Thursday and quite too late to post thoughts on Wednesday’s puzzles that nobody will read. Nonetheless regarding the clue [CA airport with a See’s Candies store] in the Ink Well puzzle, struck home. See’s is an old candy maker from Southern California. A 2-lb box of See’s Assorted Chocolates is what everybody gave everyone else on holiday’s and birthdays, 50 or more years ago. Wow, what memories. If you ever go through LAX or SFO, buy a box.

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