Wednesday, August 21, 2013

NYT 3:49 
Tausig untimed 
LAT 3:47 (Gareth) 
CS 5:36 (Dave) 

Jonathan Gersch’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 8 21 13, no. 0821

Do you enjoy word searches? Do you enjoy word searches in which the same word is hidden 14 times? Are you bad at finding diagonal answers in word searches? Then you’re in luck! Today’s NYT crossword is perfect for you. The “theme answers” really are just random longish words and phrases that contain TAN backwards, forwards, or both. 61d/69a is TAN / LINES, or [Beach markings … 14 of which are hidden vertically and horizontally elsewhere in this puzzle]. I’ve circled them for you, so if you were still planning to work your word search, I’ve spoiled the fun.

The “theme answers” are pretty dull as long fill goes. INSTANTANEOUSLY and UNATTESTED combine multiple word affixes and are less lively than multi-word phrases or titles.

The places where the TAN “LINES” appear in the grid bear no resemblance to actual tan lines, which follow clothing lines and are not limited to straight up-and-down and side-to-side line segments.

Favorite clue: 44d. [Toys known as Action Men in the U.K.], G.I. JOES. Did not know that.

I do love 53d. [Negro leagues star Buck ___] O’NEIL, who was one of the most memorable figures in Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary. But with all the answers that contain TAN or NAT locking down big chunks of the grid, the fill suffers. For example, ADD-ONS right above partial AND ON. Latin legalese FACTA (25d. [Statements in a legal case]—previous appearance in the NYT over 19 years ago). Woeful SURAL, 35a. [Relating to the calf]. Whoa! I’ve been a medical editor for over 20 years and I’ve never encountered that word. What’s more, Will Shortz’s notes on the puzzle at Xword Info say “At 35A, the constructor had SERAL (“Of ecological stages”). I thought SURAL was better, but probably not by much.” Interestingly, a search of the Cruciverb database shows two NYT appearances of SERAL in the ’90s (with similar clues) and two Newsday appearances, whereas SURAL comes up blank.

I guess most of the fill is rather routine crossword fodder, your ARAL and NES and ANI, but SURAL just brought me to a screeching halt and it’s the screeching halts that stick with you more than routine fill. The “aha” moment in this puzzle was lacking for me. Really, all the “fun” of the theme lies in either enjoying the hunt for TANs or finding their mere existence to be entertaining. I was kinda bored, truth be told. 2.75 stars.

Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Turn It Down”

Ink Well crossword answers, 8 21 13 “Turn It Down”

Phrases that start with an O are negated by turning that first letter into a NO:

  • 17a. [Military haircut that doesn’t leave a mark on the scalp?], NO-SCAR BUZZ. Oscar buzz.
  • 30a. [Mocking nickname for Dr. J, in reference to his mediocre jump shot?], NO-RANGE JULIUS. Orange Julius.
  • 46a. [Transport area with a zero-tolerance policy for bunnies?], NO-HARE AIRPORT.
  • 59a. [Frat where you can only write with chalk or coal?], NO-PEN HOUSE.

You see how consistent those are? The O is part of a word but gets broken off when it joins the NO each time.

Two answers I did not know (and they cross!):

  • 4d. [Asian telecom giant], DOCOMO.
  • 23a. [Parthenon architectural feature (and an anagram of “Poet? Me?”)], METOPE. 
  • Plus GURU, [Half of Gang Starr], is unknown to me (but a familiar enough word).

Favorite clues:

  • 68a. [Noted gun owner of cartoons], FUDD. Why is he not the NRA’s mascot? Him or Yosemite Sam.
  • 2d. [Prepare, as briefs?], IRON. What? You don’t iron your undies? I like this because of that one Ren & Stimpy episode where cranky Ren had a happy helmet strapped to his head, and he was deranged. He actually wanted to do nice things for his cat buddy. “Must … iron … Stimpy’s … shorts!” he shrieked, ironing Stimpy’s tighty whities.
  • 11d. [One for whom many angles may be right?], RELATIVIST.
  • 30d. [Country that recently “built 500 objects contributable to raising the level of modernization,” per its website], NORTH KOREA. Hey, did you hear about the UN hearings on North Korean prison camps? Dreadful.

Took me a while to remember that it was BRAINERD that was the main 37d. [“Fargo” setting], outside of Minneapolis. Apparently there is going to be a Fargo TV series starring Billy Bob Thornton.

3.5 stars from me. I liked the oddball nature of the theme.

Paul Hunsberger’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

Lovely clue at the beginning of the puzzle: [Facetious sequence?] for AEIOU. It turns out that’s part of the theme. Its symmetric partner, SEVEN, explains that all the long answers have a string of SEVEN consecutive letters without AEIOU. I remember vividly a NY Sun puzzle with this same theme (most themes have been done at some point if you look hard enough, this is not a slight on Mr. Hunsberger’s puzzle) because it blew my mind: here it is! Scott Atkinson’s Sun puzzle is slightly different, his sequences also exclude Y, but I also hadn’t heard of most of the theme answers in that puzzle! Mr. Hunsberger’s answers were all colourful and familiar (to me):

  • 18a, [“The Meaning of Life” comedy group], MONTYPYTHON
  • 32a, [Menace that isn’t very menacing], EMPTYTHREAT
  • 40a, [Eric Carmen power ballad covered by Celine Dion], ALLBYMYSELF. Sorry Jeffrey, I’m not linking to it…
  • 56a, [Title magical caretaker in a 2005 film], NANNYMCPHEE. Haven’t seen the film, but I picked up the gist of it by cultural osmosis.

Something that may be less obvious is that long sequences without vowels make filling a grid very difficult indeed: crosswords rely on patterns of vowels and consonants to facilitate crossing words. So if the non-theme fill felt a bit understated, with fewer phrases in the mix, that’s why. We do have fun longer words like FRANGIPANI, BUOYANT, ACOLYTE, PEDESTAL, IMPASSE, BEEFY, SHEILA and BAYONET. TUGOWAR is a nice phrase, although we get a (fairly common) variant spelling. Not much in the “untoward fill” column: ISHOW is an awkward partial. I appreciate that! By all means try and get some dazzle in your grid, but first do no harm.

4 stars.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Patrick Blindauer’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Inner Piece” – Dave Sullivan’s review

I’m glad constructor (and co-Lollapuzz director) Patrick Blindauer visits this blog from time to time, as I may need his help to explain the theme and particularly the title he chose. Here’s my attempt: six two-word theme phrase in which the final three-letter word is used “inside” a five-letter adjective ending in Y for the first word. Yikes, reading that back, even I don’t follow it!

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 08/21/13

  • [Weak mischief-maker?] clues WIMPY IMP
  • [Donkey with a smart mouth?] was SASSY ASS – I see a Mr. Ed sequel in the works.
  • [Big-boned newt?] is HEFTY EFT – hard for me to picture this, do newts have any bones whatsoever? I suppose they must.
  • [Snake with a sore throat?] clues RASPY ASP
  • [Nervous sports official?] is JUMPY UMP
  • And finally, what perhaps is the ookiest of the bunch, [Atmosphere at a pet salon] clues HAIRY AIR – this is just gross.

The meta-solver in me wants to use those beginning letters to spell something. Let’s see we have W-S-H-R-J-H. I got nuttin’. Anyway, as typical with PB2, we have high theme density, without much in the way of icky fill. Standouts are RUBY DEE, the House actor Hugh LAURIE and a fun alphabetical crossing of B TEAMS and TYPE A. I am also curious about the clue for BESPOKE, which was [Custom-made]. I think of it in the past participle sense if something is “bespoken,” it’s been set aside and isn’t available for others. Can you say “bespoke clothing”?

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15 Responses to Wednesday, August 21, 2013

  1. John Ellis says:

    Totally agree. And, you missed one. The revealer doesn’t count.

  2. Martin says:

    From Wikipedia:

    “The SURAL nerve subserves a purely sensory function, and therefore its removal results in only a relatively trivial deficit. For this reason, it is often used for nerve biopsy, as well as the donor nerve when a nerve graft is performed.”



    • Huda says:

      SURAL came easily to me because of exactly that nerve graft reason. I thought it was a good entry, and like Gareth I knew it way better than ITER.

      For a while, it was fun trying to guess the theme. I had answers starting with WAIT, GO, INSTANT and then all my hypotheses fell apart with the rest.

      Had several TANs always followed in one LINE, it would have been better (there are a few examples of that already). Or if, as suggested by Amy, they had some relation to where they occur on the body…

      Still, I liked it better than most raters.

  3. Gareth says:

    The problem when half your long answers are words that, as Amy says “combine multiple word affixes and are less lively…” Is that makes your dry, technical shorter answers stand out more: FACTA, SURAL and NATANT. I didn’t feel like there was much of a pay-off for them. SURAL I definitely encountered in my two years of studying anatomy: unlike say ITER, but like a LOT of other dry jargony terms… I wonder if it’s worth it making a themeless with GASTOCNEMIUS just to clue it as [Sural muscle] ;)

  4. pannonica says:

    Really liked the LAT today. A very well thought out and constructed puzzle.

  5. HH says:

    “68a. [Noted gun owner of cartoons], FUDD. Why is he not the NRA’s mascot? Him or Yosemite Sam.”

    Probably because neither of them has actually killed Bugs Bunny yet.

  6. Brucenm says:

    “Bespoke” tailoring is a British expression for what we call “tailor-made”, or “made to measure,” as opposed to “off the rack.”

  7. John From Chicago says:

    I agree with Amy and John Ellis. There are two in SULTANATE.

  8. Noam D. Elkies says:

    Peter Winkler noted TANTAN as one of the few good examples of a “HIPE” puzzle with as many as six letters (“HIPE” as in “what English word contains the letter-sequence HIPE?”). His other example was ACHACH.

    NDE (who might be a TAN_GENT if I spent more time outdoors)

  9. Jeff Chen says:

    I liked the theme idea of today’s NYT. Neat to have literal TAN lines in the three grid spanners!

    I spent some time thinking about how one might keep the same nice idea but use less constraints to achieve cleaner fill. Here’s the result if anyone’s interested:

    MAS also had an alternate grid he worked up (posted on Facebook). Interesting to see the diversity of thought amongst constructors.


  10. Vic says:

    “No-Scar”…Arrested Development, anyone?

  11. JohnV says:

    PB NE very hard. PRAWN/LAURIE/RUBYDEE? Hmmm.

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