Thursday, September 12, 2013

AV Club 5:46 
NYT 5:27 
Fireball 5:11 
LAT 6:02 (Gareth) 
BEQ 6:49 (Matt) 
CS 6:15 (Dave) 

I missed seeing Andy K. on Million Second Quiz tonight! Tune in Thursday night at 7 Central, 8 Eastern/etc. to see him on NBC. Possibly he will be in the big Money Chair going head to head with trivia rivals?

Peter Gordon’s Fireball contest crossword, “Head Start”

No review or answer grid, because it’s a contest puzzle with a Sunday deadline. I don’t know about you, but I am not great at metas and still found this one to be surprisingly easy. Toughish crossword proper, though, with a number of spiffy entries. 4.25 stars from me.

Ian Livengood’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 9 12 13, no 0912

Somewhat subtle six-part theme today, especially for those of us who don’t bother to read long, cross-referenced clues.

  • 18a. [Film lead character featured in a Disney World attraction], JACK SPARROW.
  • 24a. [Remark about the end of 18-Across], IT’S A BIRD. A sparrow is, yes.
  • 31a. [Kind of printer for home or office], BUBBLE JET.
  • 39a. [Remark about the end of 31-Across], IT’S A PLANE.
  • 49a. [2000 N.L M.V.P. who played for the Giants], JEFF KENT. What?? Who? In my book, this is a nobody, not a name I am supposed to know.
  • 56a. [Remark about the end of 49-Across], IT’S SUPERMAN. As in Clark Kent.

Highlights in the fill include JUMPSUITS, “ABOUT THAT…,” WAR ZONE, and JUICE BARS. Possibly GLAM UP. Definitely not the plural PLAN B’S.

Five clues to remark on:

  • 11d. [View from Valence], RHONE. So apparently Valence is a place in France or maybe Switzerland, and the Rhone River flows by.
  • 26a. [Hamlet’s parts], ABODES. Wait. Hamlet as in “village”? Houses are not “parts” of a village. Neighborhoods are parts of a village, but people’s abodes are simply things that are in a hamlet. Like trees, and streets, and cars, and Slinky toys.
  • 8d. [Tube inits.], ADA. As in the American Dental Association seal on a toothpaste tube.
  • 3d. [Things that zip up to go down?], JUMPSUITS. Wait, we’re defining JUMPSUITS as outfits worn by paratroopers as opposed to the jumpsuits that may be worn by people sporting a retro ’70s vibe or car mechanics? That’s just weird.
  • 21d. [___-Coburg and Gotha (former British ruling family)], SAXE. Uh, no. It’s the former name of the current British ruling family. They changed it to Windsor in 1917 because of anti-German sentiment in England.

Bonus points for the unusual and unexpected theme riff on the classic Superman line, demerits for the weirdness in the clues and a bunch of meh 3-letter answers (RAE UAE ABU ROM, anyone?). 3.9 stars overall.

Peter A. Collins’ Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

This puzzle theme’s best part was its revealer, although I’d figured out what it was going to be by the time I got there: TOSSED SALAD! Anagrammed hidden word themes do come off feeling a hair arbitrary, but this does have impressive density (7 entries and 61 letters) and some consistency in that all the answers have two distinct parts, with the hidden words crossing the divide. I say “parts” – one answer is one word, one is hyphenated and the rest two. We have:

  • A COBB salad hiding in BOB CRATCHIT. Nice entry that one! I only know COBB salads from American crosswords. BTW, an extended apology if my un-American-ness becomes too big a part of these reviews!
  • A CAESAR salad hiding in SCARE AWAY.
  • A TACO salad hiding in RIOT ACT. Another salad I’ve learned about from American crosswords.
  • A GREEK salad hiding somewhat appropriately in DARK-GREEN. Now Greek salads, those are ubiquitous here!
  • A TUNA salad hiding in SUNTANS. I have a great tuna salad recipe I acquired from a sister-in-law! Now I’m having cravings!
  • An EGG salad hiding in BIG EGOS. This is on the border of being a random-adjective-plus-noun phrase, but I think on consideration it works!

The theme also made me think of Fawlty Towers’ Waldorf Salad (not found in the puzzle) bit, but I can’t find a suitable link (either too short or the whole darn episode). Sorry about that.

We have theme invading every last corner of the grid today, with somewhat inevitable consequences. Two five-letter partials in MANOF and ASNAG for starters. Then a very high abbr. count, although most are fairly harmless in isolation: ISR, GSA, SCI, ASST, INSP, APR, SEN, USO, SMU, YMCA (included only for completeness’ sake, this is an entry I’d actively try to include in a puzzle), PSAT, SSE, STA, and AMA. As I started off by saying, none of those are really beyond the pale, but 14 abbreviations in one puzzle might be slightly on the excessive side? There were several foreign answers as well. Of them, ZEIT struck me as some high-end German. I’m sure this was a gimme for Amy, though! Thinking about it, I’m guessing zeitgeist means “time” something… “Time spirit?”

Miscellaneous musings:

    • The intersection of 1a and 1d proved tricky for me, although you all probably had no problems – the US spelling of kerb, plus very American clue for CAB was a challenge.
    • AURORA is apparently the second most populous city in Illinois. I thought AURORA was in Colorado? I see there are multiple Auroras in the US (around 30 listed here) with the Colorado one having around 300,000 souls and the Illinois one around 200,000. Again, I am sure this one was a gimme for Amy!
    • ATSTUD was a nice answer.
    • So was BACKROW. Here’s a somewhat saccharine Drifters number (from their 70’s incarnation – The Drifters are one of those groups whose composition varied wildly over the course of their existence!)
    • Another answer I liked was FORSALE.
    • I liked the clue for ETE, [Le Tour de France time]. It made the familiar answer fun!
    • TRUEUP sounds weird to my ears, but then I’m no carpenter.
    • GETAC strikes me as contrived, although not terrible as an answer.

I’d call this 3.5 stars for the theme, minus say 0.75 for the slightly clunky fill, to come in at 2.75 stars. I do realise that the thematic density necessitated such fill, but I feel the puzzle would’ve been fine with just four salads instead of six and less constrained fill. Your mileage may vary.

Updated Thursday morning:

Donna S. Levin’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Just Brows-ing” – Dave Sullivan’s review

So I’m trying to envision the thought process constructor Donna S. Levin went through to come up with this theme idea. “Hey, I wonder if celebrities known for shaggy eyebrows can be used symmetrically in a puzzle?” Well, I guess the answer was yes, with four entries clued as [X with notable eyebrows]:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 09/12/13

  • The first X is a [Curmudgeonly journalist…] or ANDY ROONEY – I think his eyebrows got more “notable” toward the end of his 60 Minutes stint.
  • The next X is a [Former child model…] which was BROOKE SHIELDS – I wonder if Andre Agassi would agree?
  • Then we have an [Academy Award winner…] cluing badboy JACK NICHOLSON – again, I’m thinking his eyebrows become more prominent as he ages, and that’s just because he doesn’t trim them.
  • Perhaps the most unexpected entry is [20th century artist…] or FRIDA KAHLO – see below.

Quite an unusual theme, but I think a nice representative group which doesn’t omit any others that spring to mind. (Can’t say I’ve frankly thought much about this category, though.) SABRA for [Native Israeli person, cactus, or liqueur] had me scratching my head at 1-Across, as I only know it as the name of a brand of hummus. Since hummus is Middle Eastern in origin, I guess the Israeli connection makes sense. I had ZAGREV before I realized APLOMB (another unusual and FAVE entry) ends with a B. Is one spelling preferred over the other? My UNFAVE is the clue for PAYPHONES which implies they are obsolete. They are indeed still to be found, and I think it’s somewhat arrogant to assume everyone has a cellphone these days. But, I realize phone companies want to phase them out as they are likely money losers, as they require someone to come collect the accumulating change periodically.

Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “When in London” — Matt’s review

Being married to an Englishwoman presents Brendan with certain theme opportunities less available to the non-Brit-partnered. Today he brings mew meaning to six familiar phrases by using the British sense of one word in each:

17-a [Unbelievably good-looking women?] = BIRDS OF PARADISE. What’s the male counterpart, blokes? Is that their dude/chick equivalent?

23-a [Otis Corporation’s question?] = NEED A LIFT? Good one.

31-a [Very evil bus?] = BASE COACH.

44-a [Words written on a pacifier?] = DUMMY TEXT. That Brits call a pacifier a “dummy” is something Brendan would know.

50-a [Frozen fries?] = BLUE CHIPS.

59-a [Suspenders that really make a statement?] = BRACES FOR IMPACT. Didn’t know this one, but easy to figure out.

Six theme entries is a lot and even if not every one shone like daybreak over Stonehenge (BLUE CHIPS, BASE COACH) it was still interesting to learn a few things, so thumbs-up on the theme.


*** Took a wrong turn at SEN??? clued as [Nero’s advisor]. Put in SENATE and immediately planned to chide Brendan in this review for not making it “advisors.”

*** NEARD was new to me, but inferrable and interesting. Also called a “neckbeard,” apparently. Check it out!

*** PMS clued as [Time for violent mood swings and lots of chocolate]. I always clue this as [Major and Blair, e.g.] or the like, but I will tell you that my strategy for this meaning of it is to give my wife whatever she wants and apologize profusely if I don’t do it fast enough.

*** First row across is LIAR PORN, I FEAR. Sounds like a BEQ!

3.75 stars.

Anna Shechtman’s American Values Club crossword, “Flipping the Script”

AV Club crossword solution, 9 12 13, “Flipping the Script” by Anna Schechtman

This week’s AV Club puzzle comes from guest constructor Anna Shechtman, a recent college grad who’s working as an assistant to Will Shortz. First woman in that job, to my knowledge.

Anyway! Anna, who builds her crosswords by hand, has crafted a doozy. She ‘s built a LANGUAGE BARRIER ([Obstacle to communication  … or what separates this puzzle’s top and bottom halves]) in the middle of the grid, and above it we learn that LATIN ([It’s spoken in high school and that’s about it]) and ROMANCE ([13-Down family]) language scripts are READ LEFT TO RIGHT ([Like writing in a 27-Across script]), whereas SEMITIC ([44-Across family]) languages like ARABIC ([It’s spoken in North Africa and elsewhere]) are TFEL OT THGIR DAER ([Like writing in many 44-Across scripts]). If that wasn’t enough, every Across answer below the LANGUAGE BARRIER is, in fact, read right to left. The individual clues don’t hint at that, so there’s a nice “aha” moment when it all clicks.

Me, I always enjoy a puzzle that asks me to enter words backwards. This is one reason I enjoyed the hell out of the recent NYT hurricane-swirl puzzle.

Selected clues and answers:

  • 14a. [Pooh-bah of childrens’ lit, so to speak], A.A. MILNE, writer of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.
  • 39a. [Suffix with cell or glob], ULE. Wait. Cellular is a word, but is cellule? Apparently it is, but I don’t remember seeing it ever before.
  • 41a. [Partner in a Rocky marriage?], ADRIAN. “Yo, Adrian.”
  • 61a. [They’re two years past sophs], SRS. Hey! Palindromic words work the same in either direction.
  • 2d. [Wife (and mother) of Uranus], GAEA. Eww.
  • 9d. [“Cut Piece” Fluxus artist], ONO. Well! That one’s new. Fluxus was a global network of artistic people blending disciplines and media.
  • 18d. [“The ___ La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)” (“Banana Splits” theme)], TRA. Best TRA clue ever.
  • 27d. [Breathing abnormality], RALE. Almost never seen in the singular in medicine. Rales = an unhealthy rattling sound heard via stethoscope.
  • 42d. [___ Sweatshirt (“Doris” musician)], EARL. I know this only from a BEQ puzzle.

There is some meh fill in here, like ARAM and -ULE, AN E and IT A. But when you busy yourself filling in words backwards, such things are less noticeable. 4.5 stars.

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26 Responses to Thursday, September 12, 2013

  1. It’s not just paratroopers who wear jumpsuits—ordinary sport skydivers wear them, too.

  2. Martin says:

    Where I grew up in England, a “hamlet” was usually much smaller than a village, typically just a small collection of houses, without any shops, PO or church. So the NYT definition works for me.

    (There was a hamlet just outside of my village called OARE… don’t you wish something big would happen there?)


  3. Ethan says:

    (1) I agree that the clue for ABODES is weird. I mean, abodes are just dwellings, right? So how are abodes more a part of a hamlet than part of a metropolis or military base or anywhere else people live?

    (2) It’s weird that whenever IRAQIS or IRAQI show up in the puzzle, which is fairly often, the clue is always so bland considering how much Iraq has been in the news for the last 25 years. I mean, I get that Will doesn’t want to show political bias or to depress the solvers, but come on. “Mosul residents?” zzzzzzz… How about “Many Kurds”, “Nouri al-Maliki et al.”, “1980-88 war participants”, something that might actually engage the solvers’ knowledge of current events or recent history.

    (3) Re: ABU, does anybody watch Homeland? It’s a completely ridiculous (albeit entertaining) show for many reasons, but the thing that drives me nuts is that the characters use “Abu Nazir” and “Nazir” interchangeably, referring to the main bad guy. Since Abu Nazir means “father of Nazir” this makes no sense. No intelligence analyst, whether Arabic-speaking or not, would ever make this mistake.

  4. Martin says:

    “abodes are just dwellings, right? So how are abodes more a part of a hamlet than part of a metropolis or military base or anywhere”

    Because, typically that’s all hamlets are, just a few dwellings/houses. Pretty much nothing else. The hamlet near my village consisted of less than a dozen houses. That’s why it was known as a hamlet.


    • Martin says:

      There is no legal definition of “hamlet” in the US, but we have some that are as small as that as well. Ironically, “hamlet” and “home” share an etymon, the Old English word “ham,” which meant both home and village.

      German usage continues to blend these meanings. German immigrants to Southern California named their village on the Santa Ana river “Anaheim.” Disneyland is one hell of an abode they probably didn’t imagine.

  5. Gareth says:

    I thought the puzzle’s theme was just perfect! Unique with a big a-ha! The answers ABOUTTHAT and JUICEBARS, and the clues [One that sucks at work?] and [Ghost story?] were also brilliant! Never heard of JEFFKENT, but then I expect not to have heard of NFL players. [Edit: I see he’s a baseball player. You see what I mean.] ABODES clue works fine for me!

  6. Evad says:

    The NYT was just plain crazy fun. I’m willing to forgive some uncommon three-letter entries for a unique theme that had a very fresh and smile-inducing vibe. Five stars from me.

  7. Tracy B. says:

    Ian Livengood and Peter Collins are in my top 5 list of favorite constructors. You’ll get no objectivity from me regarding any demerits that might exist in either puzzle—it was a fine morning all around. The coffee was excellent too. I’m happy.

  8. Daniel says:

    I’m with Dave – wonderful NYT today, with far, far less low-grade fill than Tuesday, for example, but with great cluing and a fun, playful theme.

  9. Jeffrey says:

    The Society of Jeffrey K’s strongly objects to calling JEFF KENT a nobody.

    1) He played for the Blue Jays.
    2) He was traded to the Mets on my 30th birthday.
    3) He beat out teammate Barry Bonds to win an MVP.
    4) Once you got the theme, his last name could only be KENT, CLARK or KAL-EL.
    5) He was on Survivor.
    6) He has the same first name as that awesome crossword guy.

  10. pannonica says:

    In the NYT was distracted in particular by the four three-letter country abbrevs. SYR, BOL, UAR, and ROM. It seems at the very least ROM could have been clued differently.

  11. Brucenm says:

    I’m only a very casual baseball fan, but Jeff Kent was a very familiar name from the last decade. If I were trying to remember famous baseball names from those days, he would surely be one of the first 5 I came up with. He *was* NL MVP, after all, as the clue said.

    I wish rock bands were similarly limited to a few of the *really* famous ones, like, say, REM or Pearl Jam, or Guns & Roses, as opposed to those wildly popular, superstar, megahit groups like the Greasy Pork Rinds.

    I liked Ian’s puzzle a lot, as well as the LAT and the Fireball, though I haven’t the foggiest idea as to the meta.

    Do accountants wear eyeshades??? I picture them poring over ledger books in little, dimly lit garrets, maybe next to a gas lamp.

    • Jeffrey says:

      Superman, Disney World, Jeff K, baseball, accountants – are we sure I didn’t construct today’s puzzle?

      This CPA doesn’t have an EYESHADE. I do own an abacus.

  12. sbmanion says:

    I agree that Jeff Kent is crossword worthy, but I consider him to be incredibly overrated as a player. He has the record for most homeruns by a second baseman, but guess the time period when he hit most of them. I continue to believe that hardnosed white guys are largely given a pass on steroid abuse, although there are some exceptions such as McGwire and Clemons that have obviously been implicated.

    Kent was legendary for his clubhouse obnoxiousness. In the year the won the MVP, he had many clutch hits, but his leading RBI numbers that year were the direct result of batting behind Barry Bonds, who set the all-time record for on base percentage. If Bonds had not been even more obnoxious than Kent (if that is possible), Bonds would certainly have won the MVP.

    I thoroughly enjoyed today’s puzzle.


  13. Martin says:

    What J.K. said about J.K.


    (Cofounder of The Royal Victoria Crossword Society: 2 members strong)

  14. pannonica says:


    31-across looks askance at the theme, with the hairy eyeball.

  15. Huda says:

    NYT: Very fun theme and puzzle, even though the NE killed me. Finally something clicked about Valence and I put in RHONE.
    For me, the intersection of SYRia with EATEN AWAY felt sadly apt. Now I need not a JUICE BAR but the real deal, with COSMOs… It’s cute that LIMES is in the neighborhood and clued as bar stock, but should Bar be a clue if it’s also an answer?Or is that one of those rules that has gone by the wayside?

  16. HH says:

    Million Second Quiz, Jeopardy!, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire … really? When one of you goes on Wipeout, I’ll be impressed.

  17. ahimsa says:

    Wow, I loved both the NYT and LAT puzzles today. Many kudos to puzzle contructors Collins and Livengood!

  18. sbmanion says:

    My phone does not allow me to reply directly to your comment and link. Do you accept that Barry Bonds is the second greatest player in history per the site you linked?

  19. Michael says:

    “So how are abodes more a part of a hamlet than part of a metropolis or military base or anywhere else people live?”

    Along the same lines, how are dachas Black Sea getaways anymore than they are Volga River or Lake Baikal getaways? Dacha is just a summer house not tied to any particular geographic location or body of water. If anything, it’s usually located within a couple hours’ drive from one’s primary home, in a predominantly rural area.

  20. pannonica says:

    BEQ: Was completely stalled in the bottom center, with three lesser proper names:

    65a [“The Killing” actress Mireille __”] ENOS
    68a [Hall of Famer Sandburg] RYNE
    63d [Carolina Panthers coach Rivera] RON

    Could not finish.

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