Thursday, May 23, 2013

NYT 4:34 
LAT 3:26 
Fireball contest puzzle 
AV Club 4:17 
BEQ 6:36 (Matt) 
CS 5:35 (Dave) 

David Levinson Wilk’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 5 23 13, no 0523

The theme today is a playful one: 18a. [With 50-Across, how one can tell that this puzzle was up all night waiting to be solved?] clues IT HAS CIRCLES / UNDER ITS EYES, and the five trios of circled letters appear beneath the letters EYE (in MEYER, THREE-YEAR, “MAYBE YES, MAYBE NO,” and VOLLEYERS). Outside of the revealer, the EYEs are always just letter sequences and not the word “eye.”

I plugged the circled letters—REN ROA ZIE REA DOS—into the Internet Anagram Server. The first one in the list is A DREARIER SNOOZE, which is apt because … no, just kidding. I liked the puzzle all right. But it should probably rest all five (?) of its EYEs.

Favorite fill: FRENZIES, RASSLE, cute OTTERS. Favorite clues: 25d. [Side effect of a withdrawal?], ATM FEE; 30d. [The sculpture “Kryptos” sits outside its hdqrs.], CIA; 46d. [Org. whose members wear fire-resistant clothing], NASCAR; 59d. [Company with a “Running Man” symbol].

10a: [Texas’ ___ Ranch] clues LBJ. I recently heard a “Fresh Air” interview with Robert Caro, whose fourth volume of an LBJ biography came out this month. Did you know that a young LBJ taught Mexican-American kids (and sometimes their parents, or the school janitor)? Did you know his people urged him not to waste his effort pushing for passage of JFK’s civil rights package, and instead he pretty much made it priority #1? Caro’s a good storyteller, and if you want the 37-minute Cliff’s Notes for the book, listen to the radio interview.

Back to the puzzle. It had some minuses: two Old Testament book abbreviations (EZR and ESTH), biblical Latin for ERAT (2d. [“In principio ___ Verbum” (biblical phrase)], -ULE, LVI, and 44d: [Five-time world figure skating champion Carol] HEISS (but clue that as [Hot, in Hamburg] and I’m all over it).

If you laughed like Beavis or Butthead when 34d: [Idiot] was followed by 35d: [Border]—ASS and ABUT—then you need to watch the video here. And if you have a teenager in the house, check it out. A linguist takes on all the annoying sounds teenagers make, and demonstrates them on video.

3.75 stars.

David Poole’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 5 23 13

This puzzle has two themes going on. The first one is MRS., the 60d: [Title for the starts of 20-, 25-, 37-, 46- and 55-Across]:

  • 20a. [Showy bit of plumage], PEACOCK FEATHER. Mrs. Peacock from Clue.
  • 25a. [Mae West’s request to Beulah in “I’m No Angel”], PEEL ME A GRAPE. Mrs. Peel. Who is Mrs. Peel? Is this Emma Peel from the old TV series The Avengers? Yes, indeed.
  • 37a. [N, in Morse code], DASH DOT. Mrs. Dash salt-free seasoning blends. The DASH DOT bit feels rather arbitrary.
  • 46a. [Quadrennial mathematics awards], FIELDS MEDALS. Mrs. Fields cookies. I was thinking this was the big-deal award Noam Elkies won because I skimmed over the “quadrennial” part—it was the Putnam competition he won three years running.
  • 55a. [His work was done by Friday], ROBINSON CRUSOE. Coo-coo-ca-choo, Mrs. Robinson.

The other theme, alas, is Words Encountered Far More Often in Crosswords Than Elsewhere. ASEA, OTO, STOA, ELAH, ETUI, SONE, and OMOO? It felt like they just kept coming at me.

Did not know: 18a. [Oscar-winning composer Korngold], ERICHMiddle name Wolfgang! He won for 1938’s Robin Hood.

Despite all the crosswordese, I like the way the theme plays out and I like the disparate assortment of theme answers. 3.5 stars.

Updated Thursday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword: “Howard’s End” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Travel day for me, I’m assuming there are at least four Howards in this puzzle; Howard Dean and Howard Stern jump out at me, but are there Howards with the last names KEEL or HAWKS?

CS solution 05/23/13

OK, so I’m back from my trip and wanted to add a bit more commentary. (I didn’t want the perfectly decent puzzle to be treated unfairly due to my lack of time this morning.) So our four Howards are:

  • Howard [COLLEGE] DEAN, ex-governor of the great state of Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate. Listen to this if you want to relive the “Dean Scream” at the Iowa caucuses. BYAH!
  • Howard [ATLANTA] HAWKS, so okay, I should probably know the director of such classics as Scarface and Gentlemen Prefer Blonds, but c’est la vie.
  • Howard [ON AN EVEN] KEEL, who I just barely recognize as a character on Dallas, but he seems to have also had a rich career in older movie musicals.
  • Another nautical Howard, Howard [STEM TO] STERN, radio personality and judge on America’s Got Talent.

Nice tie-in with the title as all the Howards last-names “end” their phrases, but I just wish the middle two were more familiar. (Too bad a common phrase doesn’t end in COSELL, eh?) My FAVE award actually goes to the pairing of the clues [Pass from Tom Brady] (AERIAL) with [Supermodel Bündchen], his wife GISELE. There’s a power couple for you! No UNFAVE award from me, since I was so tardy to the party.

Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “The Fault in Our Stars” — Matt’s review

Hilarious, original theme (what else is new?) from Brendan today:

  • 18-a [Singer being treated for anxiety?] = PAXIL ROSE. (Axl Rose)
  • 23-a [Stein’s lover being treated for sexual arousal disorder?] = CIALIS B. TOKLAS. (Alice B. Toklas)
  • 37-a [With 39-Across, celebrity chef being treated for chronic pain?] = DEMEROL LAGASSE. (Emeril Lagasse)
  • 48-a [TV evangelist being treated for the grippe?] = TAMIFLU BAKKER. (Tammy Faye Bakker)
  • 57-a [Screenwriter being treated for nasal congestion?] = NORA AFRIN. (Nora Ephron)

OK, this is irrelevant but really weird. You ever working on your laptop and hear someone speak the same word you happen to be typing? Well I just had it happen twice in the past 5 minutes while writing this review. I’m listening to the Shins’ great album “Oh, Inverted World” and they sang 1) “anxiety” while I was typing it above and then 2) “bakers” while I was typing “Bakker” just now. Freaky.

Anyway, this is a classic BEQ puzzle which he should use for promotional purposes: funny, original, edgy (what, are you making fun of people on medication? No, he’s not, he’s writing a crossword), snappy clues, and of course skillfully constructed.

Here’s some good fill: I’M SO TIRED, CATSKILLS, TYPE B, MS-DOS, OS/X (nice duo there), SOFT C and ALL TIED. And that’s with five theme entries.

Favorite clue: [Lab critters?] = FLEAS.

This puzzle captures why people like solving BEQ so much. I think I’ll tweet that when I’m done here. Bravo, friend — keep doing what you’re doing.

Brendan Quigley’s AV Club crossword, “Pick Up Game”

AV Club xword solution, 5 23 13

The theme here is the basketball game of Horse, wherein you shoot from various points around the paint to pick up H, O, R, S, and E. The theme answers have the various cumulative “scores” added (in circled squares) to familiar phrases:

  • 17a. [With 18-Across, in need of waxing?], BUSHY AS A / BEAVER.
  • 26a. Sees right through an April Fools’ Day gimmick?], GETS THE HOAX.
  • 37a. [Entomologist?], THORAX COLLECTOR.
  • 45a. [What the Sweathogs use to cut wood?], HORSHACK SAW.
  • 59a. [With 61-Across, old condom that simply refuses to die?], TROJAN WARHORSE. Bonus points to BEQ for the Trojan War/Trojan Horse combo here.

Funnest clues:

  • 48a. Certain napkin for ladies], MAXI.
  • 49a. Swear words often said in church?], I DO.
  • 55a. Supporter of a stately bust?], D CUP. Not all that stately, really.
  • 9d. Homo or trans], PREFIX.
  • 48d. Label one might be called a sellout for signing with], MAJOR. As in “one of the majors.”
  • 51d. Estrus feeling], URGE. The daily newspaper crosswords are afraid of animal sex, aren’t they?
  • 58d. Added to the pot in anticipation of a flush?], PEED.

Now, the fill here is good despite the inclusion of 65 theme squares, whereas I often blog that thematic ambition gets in the way of good fill. What is the difference here? When you have a skilled constructor who sets high standards for him- or herself, the puzzle’s not going to be auto-filled by Crossword Compiler. It’s not going to be filled with junk. It’s not going to be published unless the constructor can be proud of the work. And when you do get a fusty old crossword answer like OGEE, instead of using a seen-it-many-times clue, the constructor will have written an interesting or funny clue. [Kind of arch common in Islamic architecture] gives you an artsy example you can envision rather than throwing [S-shaped molding] or [Curvy molding] or, god forbid, [Double curve] at you. All the molding in my house follows a straight line along the wall, so without looking up OGEE in the dictionary or Google and finding illustrations, [S-shaped molding] is just this weird, crossword-centric phrase that floats in the ether, meaninglessly prompting an OGEE reaction in longtime solvers without enlightening them. But with Brendan’s clue, you picture ancient buildings with  tall, graceful arches, and you have an inkling of an idea what an OGEE is.

And independent constructors like the AV Club team, Brendan, the Matts Gaffney and Jones, and the young turks releasing puzzles on their own websites have some leeway that the daily newspaper puzzles don’t: They can include fill like FCUK (because what else will fit the *C*K space when the C and K are locked down by theme answers?) and HEP A (I’m fine with either that two-word shortening of hepatitis A or the HEPA filters found in vacuum cleaners, but HEPA has just two appearances in the Cruciverb database, both in CrosSynergy puzzles) and PEED.

Inventive theme, cluing as crisp and fresh and salty as a new batch of tortilla chips, surprisingly good fill with barely any compromises dictated by the beefy theme. 4.5 stars, and who wants nachos now?

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13 Responses to Thursday, May 23, 2013

  1. Jackson says:

    About time to see Stephanie MEYER in a crossword, after being shunned for 4-6 years.

    Unique theme, but bad fill, so I’d put NYT at 3 stars.

    LA Times fill was decent as far as what seems to come through these days. Liked DASHDOT. 3 stars for me as well.

    • pannonica says:

      She’s appeared before (in a Hex/Hook Sunday), as I well know from misspelling her first name—as you did—in my write-up last month. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s appeared earlier, although it seems a début for the NYT.

      • Jackson says:

        MEYER hasn’t appeared, and be referring to Stephenie in NYT, Newsday, LA Times, Washington Post, Universal, USA Today, A.V. , Inkwell, or Reagle, thus almost all the major crosswords. MEYER, sadly enough, has appeared in those venues a good 16 times over the last 5 years.

        And Ha, I’ve never actually noticed the “e” instead of the “a”. Good catch!

        • pannonica says:

          The Hex/Hook is the Boston Globe puzzle, which may be nationally syndicated as well.

  2. HH says:

    “…but are there Howards with the last names KEEL or HAWKS?”

    Yes! Try the Internet Movie Database. And if you’re “too young” to know who they are, I hate you.

    • Evad says:

      Sorry, didn’t have the time this morning to check them out–Keel should’ve rung a bell due to his Dallas appearance, but Hawks was a complete miss for me. Movie directors, particularly “golden era” ones, are a big hole in my woeful entertainment knowledge.

      But if you’d like to hate me because I’m too young (!), I’m happy to oblige.

  3. Gareth says:

    One of the most creative uses of circles I’ve seen!

    Also, in the LAT, how fabulous is PEELMEAGRAPE as an answer!

  4. pannonica says:

    I liked the puzzle all right. But it should probably rest all five (?) of its EYEs.

    Who knew that crossword puzzles had five eyes? I hereby declare that the animal proxy for crosswords is OPABINIA:

  5. Lois says:

    With regard to a discussion on this site recently about Harold Lloyd, I’d like to let movie fans know that some of his films can be seen tonight starting 8:00 on the East Coast (with Safety Last) on TCM and continuing all night. The programming will include many short films that have never been shown in revival until now. The other long features, besides Safety Last, are The Freshman and The Kid Brother.

    No comments on today’s or this week’s puzzles. Just came back from a trip and haven’t done them yet.

  6. pannonica says:

    Loved the BEQ too.

  7. Gary R says:

    Twenty-one three-letter answers in the NYT, and so many of them abbreviations – YECH! And who uses a three-letter abbreviation for a four-letter word (EZR/Ezra)? I wonder what Mr. Wilk’s abbreviation for Job is.

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