Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jonesin' 4:27 
NYT 3:35 
LAT 3:07 
CS 6:01 (Dave) 
Xword Nation untimed (Janie) 

Greater NYC area folks, if you’re in the mood for what is quite possibly the world’s very first ping-pong/crossword biathlon, head to Pleasantville this Friday night for the Westchester Crossword Puzzle Tournament. It’s taking place at Will Shortz’s table tennis center, but the ping-pong is optional. Details here.

Kevin Christian’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 9 24 13, no 0924

It’s classic movie nostalgia time:

  • 13a. [With 59-Across, where [circled letters] came from], OUTER.
  • 20a. [Child actress who appeared with [circled letters]], DREW BARRYMORE.
  • 25a. [Creator of [circled letters], SPIELBERG. Written by Melissa Mathison, based on (and I did not know this, but I believe Wikipedia) Steven Spielberg’s imaginary friend.
  • 45a. [What [circled letters] wanted to do], PHONE HOME.
  • 49a. [Means of escape for [circled letters]], FLYING BICYCLE.
  • 59a. [See 13-Across], SPACE.
  • 14d. [With 41-Down, composition of a trail followed by [circled letters]], REESE’S.
  • 23d. [Best Original ___ (award for the film with [circled letters])], SCORE.
  • 35d. [Costume for [circled letters] on Halloween], GHOST. I wanted SHEET.
  • 41d. [See 14-Down], PIECES.
  • And taken together, the two circled letters spell E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

I dunno, folks. The “[circled letters]” appearing in eight clues were a bit much. If the clues had just had “E.T.” in them, we wouldn’t have had the guessing game of “guess what this puzzle is about,” but we also wouldn’t have had the annoyance factor of incomplete clues—plus two phrases were split into two answers, so you get both a “With 41-Down” and a “[circled letters]” in the same clue. Eh.

According to Will Shortz’s puzzle notes, the circled E and T were his idea, and necessitated doctoring the fill in the MOBILE BAY zone. Do you think it was worthwhile? I wonder what the fill in that area had before, in lieu of ST LEO, EYER, EER, LUPE, and EUBIE. Speaking of LUPE: 51d. [“Little Latin ___ Lu” (1966 hit)]?? Not sure I’ve ever heard of that. Rapper Lupe Fiasco, sure.

Favorite fill: THEM R’S (just kidding, it’s THE MRS.), EAR DOCTOR, and the painful viral condition SHINGLES. Oh, wait, the latter is clued 37d. [They’re “hung out” by professionals].

3.5 stars.

Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Crsswrd Nation puzzle, “Top Guns”—Janie’s review

Crossword Nation 9/24

Crossword Nation 9/24

Rule of thumb in puzzle construction: if the theme fill runs vertically, there’d better be a darned good reason behind the choice. Today’s theme does—and there is. The top (first word) of each is a kind of gun. Whence today’s title. Am also pleased to report that, when used properly, none of these is a lethal weapon. Or not exactly…more on that comin’ up. Firing with four cylinders, the Gorski gun gallery includes:

  • 3D. RAY DONOVAN [Liev Schreiber TV crime drama that premiered in June 2013]. Ah, the RAYgun. Science-fiction’s contribution to the idea of weaponry sans projectiles. Instead, directed energy blasts away the threatening or obstructing target (alien, human or inanimate). Real-life applications of the technology are listed in the previous link and described more in depth here. (This is where the may-be-lethal-to-humans factor comes in…) As for the TV show… That’s a Showtime series I’ve not seen, though I’m a Liev fan (his stage work especially). Apparently, if not “perfect,” the show does have legs.
  • 5D. RADAR O’REILLY [Gary Burghoff’s role on “M*A*S*H”]. For a real change of pace (while stretching out/building on the sound), the RADAR gun, an altogether kinder and gentler kind of “shooter.” Though perhaps not so beloved by drivers marginally exceeding the speed limit. More fun for tracking the speed of baseball pitches or tennis serves, no? There are even apps for that! Corporal O’REILLY is a role Mr. Burghoff originated in the brilliant, black-comedy, 1970 antiwar movie of the same name. So he was both on “M*A*S*H” and in “M*A*S*H.”
  • KerbauJawa

    Water buffalo plowing rice fields in Java, Indonesia

    24D. WATER BUFFALO [Powerful rice paddy beast]. Yay—the WATER gun! Yes, I know that some have been mistaken by officers of the law for actual, ammunition-expelling firearms, but I’m thinkin’ here of summertime recreation and less complicated childhood times and the delight taken in soaking one’s target. Or getting soaked. And, bubbelehs, let’s not forget the bubalas bubalis a/k/a the hard working WATER BUFFALO. “Nice puppy.”

  • 31D. FLASH DRIVE [Pocket-sized computer storage plug-in]. The term FLASH gun was new to me and, in fact, there seem to be two kinds. One is used where light is low by photographers (which I always thought of as a FLASH attachment); the other, by magicians to “throw fire.” Seems to me like that tiny FLASH DRIVE is the most miraculous of all!

On reflection, I think I’m more taken with the execution of the puzzle as a whole (which has some great fill) than the theme itself. Not sure if this is due to my lukewarmness to its gun-dependent concept, or (as someone who solves a lot of puzzles) the somewhat serviceable nature of its being a “types of” theme. Probably some combo. I caught on pretty quickly and, as a result, did a lot of my solving by way of the “Down” clues. Which got me into a bit of trouble, truth be told. See that clue at 6D[VW forerunners]? The “S” I entered in the fourth square did me no good whatsoever. This is not a clue about Volkswagen automotive history but the alphabet, pure and simple. So the correct fill is RSTU… (VWXYZ….). This is a terrific use of misdirection in cluing, btw.

air kiss


So let’s look at some more of the fill and clues that (imho) are unequivocal standouts. Look at the central vertical fill for a moment. I love this part of the grid and the way the long fill cascades down, right to left, from the character-defining “GET OVER IT!” [“Stop whining and move on!”] to the ethereal AIR KISS [Superficial Oscar Night smooch] and the usage-based “AS WRITTEN” [What “[sic]” means in a quotation]. That’s a solid way to anchor a puzzle’s mid-section!

Placed about this core, horizontally now, we also get ON WATCH with its double-edged clue [Remaining vigilant about a Timex factory?]; comic book villain Lex LUTHOR; the cagey [Freudian mind reader?] for ANALYST; and the colloquial phrase RAN LOW for [Almost out of stock].

Just noticed, and was amused to see, that the last four letters in the clue [Furry TV E.T.] (for ALF) are echoed in the fill TV SETS [Sports bar fixtures]. Where you might see archival footage of ALI, the [“Sting like a bee” boxer] underscored with strains of [“I am just A POOR boy…” (“The Boxer” lyrics)]. (Question: are those large flat-screen TVs also called “sets”? Somehow I don’t associate that word with today’s sleek TVs but with, well, something more analog…)

And because I enjoy it when there appear to be mini-themes in a puzzle (as above, or the mere fact that someone who’s LIVID is likely to throw a SNIT, say…)—and even though Sunday was the first day of autumn—I enjoyed today’s homage to winter by way of SNOW and SLED and SKI. Hmm. Sounds like a good excuse for some hot chocolate… ADIEU for now, all!

Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Thinking of View”

Did you ever notice how “thinking of you” and “thinking of view” would sound pretty much the same? (Unless the speaker is particularly meticulous in enunciating words.) The theme answers sneak a V in after an OF:

  • 17a. [Bed linen where bad stuff goes on?], SHEET OF VICE. Ice.
  • 36a. [Drinkware crafted between the mountains?], FLAGONS OF VALE. “Flagons of ale” is not exactly the most familiar phrase. Anyone else try VAIL before VALE?
  • 44a. [What sports car engines have?], PLENTY OF VROOM. Room. Nice one!
  • 65a. [Technical genius at filmmaking?], WIZARD OF VID.The Wizard of Id comic strip. Do people refer to the field as “vid”?

The theme works consistently, but I’m not always enchanted by the base phrase or the results.

Good stuff:

  • 32a. [Site to search for stomach remedies], WEBMD. Could do without MDS at 1-Across, though.
  • 55a. [“Primal Fear” actor Edward], NORTON. Say it with me: “I-I-I-I lost time.” If you haven’t seen that movie (costarring Richard Gere and Laura Linney), look for it. It might do a number on your mind.
  • 3d. [Reason for insoles, maybe], SMELLY FEET. Pee-yew!
  • 33d. [Event where 13 is a good number], BAR MITZVAH. “Today, I am a man.”

Questionable bits:

  • 47a. [Put at, as a price], SET AS. Huh? No. “Let’s set it as $4.99” doesn’t sound plausible. Plus, there’s an “as” in the clue, which is necessarily tortured.
  • 1d. [Total one’s totals?], MISADD. I don’t get it.
  • Lots of blah little 3s and 4s: I.AM, I’M A, FEIN, IST, EELS, TSO, SEVE, OSE, MLI.

Three stars from me.

Updated Tuesday morning:

Sarah Keller’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “The Bar Scene” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Five phrases where the first word can precede the word BAR:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 09/24/13

  • [Time of youthful inexperience] clues SALAD DAYS – remember the days when salad bars didn’t have sneeze guards? Eek. Funny, the theme phrase dates back to Shakespeare’s time.
  • [Stick-in-the-mud] is a WET NOODLE – I wanted “wet blanket” here first; a “wet bar” is that island thingy a lot of folks have in their family rooms which has a sink and a liquor cabinet.
  • [With “The,” 1985 coming-of-age comedy-drama featuring the “Brat Pack”] is a very long clue for BREAKFAST CLUB – I wanted a reference to the Sunday morning BREAKFAST TEST here, instead. Is a “breakfast bar” what a hotel might offer as an amenity? Or is it something in someone’s kitchen where breakfast can be served?
  • [Exploration competition started by Sputnik] was the SPACE RACE – these are my favorite type of entries where the “space” in “space race” means nothing like the “space” in “space bar” (on a keyboard). Well, not really “nothing like” as they both imply an area of nothing.
  • And for all you keglers out there, [It results when a bowler neither strikes nor spares] was a OPEN FRAME – I grew up playing candlepin bowling, I think it’s only native to New England. An “open bar” is what might be offered at a wedding reception where drinks are free.

I enjoyed the theme and entries but felt the fill on this suffered too much from the weight of 5 theme entries, what with ARA, ACA, MIII, REICE, AXLED, DE SAC, BORA and perhaps my most UNFAVE, a variant of “Shh…” or what a sibilant librarian might utter, SSH. I’ll give my FAVE today to the Zed action in the northwest–PULITZER and IZOD in particular.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Kurt Krauss’s Los Angeles Times crossword

I’ve seen a few “the theme entries begin with words that are kinds of cheese” crosswords before, but the addition of the jocular CHEESEHEADS (62a. [Green Bay Packer fans … and a hint to the answers to starred clues]) lends a fun touch.

  • 17a. [*1972 hit with the line “The day the music died”], AMERICAN PIE. My kid won’t eat American cheese.
  • 26a. [*County fair prize], BLUE RIBBON. And I won’t eat blue cheese.
  • 40a. [*Home-based business], COTTAGE INDUSTRY. I didn’t eat cottage cheese until I was an adult because it looked suspect.
  • 49a. [*Beef-braised-with-tomatoes dish], SWISS STEAK. I eat neither Swiss cheese nor steak.

Honest, I do like cheese a lot. Just not all cheeses!

Five more things:

  • 46a. [Blue gem, for short], LAPIS lazuli. Why don’t I have a heart made of lapis? I want one. Or at least a polished hunk of lapis, to go with the hunk of green malachite. (I am fond of minerals.)
  • 71a. [“Star Wars” surname?], DETOO. Eh. Clue is trying too hard. Given that the droid is R2-D2, pushing the I-never-see-it-outside-of-crosswords DETOO as a surname is going too far. I prefer my playful clues with non-iffy fill.
  • 11d. [Vehicle safety devices], SEAT BELTS. When I was little and cars were sold without seat belts, my dad had seat belts installed in our car.
  • 28d. [Bassoon vibrator], REED. I didn’t see this clue while solving but now that I see “vibrator” in the puzzle, I am amused.
  • 30d. [“But I don’t wanna __ pirate!”: “Seinfeld”], BE A. From the “puffy shirt” episode. Loved this clue.

3.5 stars. I deducted points for fill like ESSEN and AVI.

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11 Responses to Tuesday, September 24, 2013

  1. Davis says:

    Had a relatively minor bout of SHINGLES about a year ago, and boy was that awful. I will definitely vaccinate my kids against chicken pox so they will be less likely to go through that as adults.

    As to this puzzle, I was not a fan. The EUBIE-LUPE crossing seemed a bit obscure for a Tuesday (never heard of either one), though saved by the fact that nothing but U seems plausible there. If Will’s change necessitated the ugly fill in that corner, then I think it was not a good trade off.

  2. Martin says:

    Call me a heretic, but I was never much of a fan of the movie. However, the theme density and stacking definitely brought a smile to my face. Also, how about REESES/PIECES going down through the stacked theme entries? Pretty neat if you ask me.


    • pannonica says:

      Though I was just a kid when it came out (1982), thought it was little more than a glorified promotion for the new candy, which was essentially m&m’s with evil peanut butter instead of beneficent, wonderful chocolate. So needless to say the subject of the theme parlayed into zero sentimental warmth from this solver; in fact it achieved the opposite, prompting nearly visceral animus. Starting with this deficit, it went nowhere because the execution isn’t appealing—this is the kind of dishevelled puzzle I analogize to throwing a pot of pasta at the wall and seeing how much can be gotten to stick.

      ps: That was the same year (12-month period, not calendar year) that this budding curmudgeon realized what a sham the Grammys are, when Toto won 7 of the awards. Can you say disillusionment?

  3. Gareth says:

    The film doesn’t evoke nostalgia for me; it’s interesting enough to feature so many plot points I guess. Not interesting enough that I can completely forgive corners like STAD/AGIO/TOGAE/AGIRL, TZUS/HESA/ERST and the one Amy already mentioned… I predict a lot of people will be more forgiving purely because nostalgia buys you a lot of forgiveness!

  4. Jesse says:

    I only know Little Latin Lupe Lu from this scene in High Fidelity.

    SIDE NOTE: For years, before I knew better, I thought the band Jack Black complains about was “Balanced Sebastian.”

  5. Brucenm says:

    Explanation for a 1* rating for yesterdays’s BEQ:

    16a crossing 10d and 6d (which should have been gettable if there weren’t so many other mysterious crossing letters.) 31a crossing 20d — (32 d could have been either sour or dour.) I guess what really set me off was 20d. Sure, I could have googled it, but why bother with something I find so totally uninteresting. In restrospect 1* was probably an overreaction, since there were parts of the puzzle I enjoyed.

    Incidentally, I approve of the request for an explanation of a 1* rating, especially where that rating seems anomalous and outside the norm. I have always agreed that if you’re going to dump on something or someone, have the b**** not to do it anonymously. So I will continue to try to comply. If disclosure has the effect of rendering negative judgments more temperate and rational, so much the better.

  6. Art Shapiro says:

    I too like the idea of defending a 1 star. I’d like to think distributions are symmetric, meaning for each five star rating one should pretty much give a one star. I think the real distribution might skew slightly high. I’m personally very sparing with 1 and 5, but give a lot of 2s and 4s.

    I’ll give one star if it’s full of pop culture, meaning more appropriate for People Magazine, or one of the tiny number per year where I simply find solving to be an ordeal and giving no enjoyment.


  7. Joan Macon says:

    Where is the LAT review for today? Too bad to waste all that cheese!

  8. Lois says:

    I think a theme answer was missed in the comments on Xword Nation: 27d, AIRKISS (airgun), centrally located (mentioned elsewhere in the writeup). This comment is from someone who didn’t even understand the theme until Janie explained it.

Comments are closed.