Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fireball 5:21 (Amy) 
AV Club 4:13 (Amy) 
NYT 5:03 (Amy) 
LAT 5:02 (Gareth) 
BEQ 6:41 (Matt) 
CS 5:15 (Dave) 

New York Times online/Across Lite solvers who are perplexed: Click the NYT link above for a hint, which will be followed by spoiler space so you won’t necessarily see the whole solution.

Are you hankering for more great crosswords? Are you keen on supporting the Reading to Kids organization? You’re in luck: A set of nine puzzles from the Crosswords LA tournament is now available for $10 here. I test-solved the puzzles in September and my favorites were the themed puzzle by Jeffrey Harris (so creative!) and Trip Payne’s themeless finals puzzles (super smooth).

David Kwong’s New York Times crossword

If you’re wondering what the heck to put in certain squares in the applet or Across Lite, try the letter X. Deb Amlen reports that the NYT’s HTML5 online gameplay does not have this constraint, and of course the printed puzzle won’t either.
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NY Times crossword solution, 10 31 13, no. 1031

That’s annoying, isn’t it?

Our Halloween theme is old-school Hollywood movie monsters and their mirror reflections. The clues are rather annoyingly vague for such a fun subject:

  • 23d. [Things worth looking into?]. MIRRORS. The center column of the grid serves as a mirror here.
  • 1a. [Universal Studios role of 1941], WOLFMAN.
  • 8a. [1-Across, in 23-Down], NAMFLOW. 
  • 17a. [Universal Studios role of 1931], MONSTER.
  • 18a. [17-Across, in 23-Down], RETSNOM.
  • 59a. [Universal Studios role of 1925], PHANTOM.
  • 61a. [59-Across, in 23-Down], MOTNAHP.
  • 64a. [Universal Studios role of 1931], DRACULA.
  • 65a. 64-Across, in 23-Down], … just a blank space, because Dracula cannot see his reflection in a mirror. If solving the .puz or Java applet way, enter XXXXXXX instead. I wonder what other characters people tried. A period? A zero? A blank underscore? MIRRORS? No letters go with the Down crossings, which all end one letter short of their space.

I did not love the gimmick. An opportunity to entertain was missed with the drab, undifferentiated “Universal studios role of year X” clues. What MONSTER is this, anyway? Frankenstein’s reanimated man? Too vague.

Outside of the characters forwards and backwards, plus the MIRRORS, there is not much else of note in the puzzle. SWEE’PEA is nice, and SHIATSU and J.S. BACH are a little fancy. I love that MITTENS is clued as 10d. [Nickname for a 2012 presidential candidate]. Who was calling Romney “Mittens,” for the most part? I’m thinking it wasn’t people who were excited to vote for him. (According to a poll, 2% of voters picked Mittens as Mitt Romney’s actual first name.)

53d. [La mía es la tuya, they say] clues CASA. I’m guessing this is Spanish for something like “What’s mine is yours,” but I’ve never, ever seen tuya before.

3.5 stars.

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 67”

Fireball crossword solution, 10 31 13

Lots of answers I haven’t seen in crosswords before, including some I didn’t know:

  • 27a. [PC user’s mistake reverser], CONTROL-Z. Perhaps my favorite entry in this puzzle. On the Mac, it’s command-Z, which I would also love to see in a crossword.
  • 34a. [Debut album of 2010 “American Idol” runner-up Crystal Bowersox], FARMER’S DAUGHTER. Didn’t know it.
  • 44a. [Celebrity gossip sources], FAN SITES. Fresh entry.
  • 55a. [Former general manager of the Mets], OMAR MINAYA. I reckon I know him mainly from crosswords.
  • 4d. [Editors’ deadlines], PRESS TIMES.
  • 7d. [1786 opera by 54-Across], LE NOZZE DI FIGARO. A gimme with the L*N*Z– in place.
  • 11d. [“Catch ya later”], “PEACE OUT.” Great entry; casual/slangy.
  • 30d. [Veal cutlets], SCHNITZELS. Home of the fourth Z in the grid, after the opera and MUNIZ/LA PAZ.
  • 34d. [Organizations run by one dominant person], FIEFDOMS. Clued in a modern way.

Nobody’s excited to see ESSO in a grid, but the King of Original Cluing brought something new to the table: [Little Oil Drop was its mascot]. Aw, who doesn’t find petroleum products to be adorable?

Worst misstep: I read 40a. [MVP of the 1994 NBA All-Star Game] and had the final -EN in place so I filled in RIPKEN. It actually worked for four of the squares, but it’s the Bulls’ Scottie PIPPEN. Cal R. was not known for his hoops prowess.

Two other clues that held me up:

  • 16a. [First name of an electrician-turned-president], LECH. Poland, not the U.S.
  • 10d. [WYSIWYG shooter], SLR. We’re talking cameras here but I was thinking of “what you see is what you get” computer stuff and first-person shooter video games and was at a loss.

Four stars.

Aimee Lucido’s American Values Club crossword, “Sickeningly Sweet”

AV Club crossword solution, 10 31 13 “Sickeningly Sweet”

Like the Wednesday NYT, Halloween candy is the theme here—only in this puzzle, the candy tends towards the gory:

  • 19a, 57a. [With 57-Across, “atomic” sucking candy that violates building safety codes?], FIRE BALL. You’ll need a sprinkler system for these balls.
  • 24a. [Chocolate-covered fragments of actress Witherspoon?], REESE’S PIECES. Mmm, peanutty, fleshy goodness.
  • 38a. [Blood-spewing candy?], GUSHERS. Probably better for you than the traditional Gushers. More iron, less sugar and acids to eat away your tooth enamel.
  • 48a. [Chocolate-covered clumsy digit?], BUTTERFINGER. The Rahm Emanuel special.

Five faves:

  • 32a. [Category of person you’re attracted to], TYPE. Good clue.
  • 37a. [Doubled, the second part of a pint-sized beauty queen’s name], BOO. It’s Halloween. Why not clue BOO in the scariest way possible?
  • 53a. [Green-haired critter], CHIA PET. Good answer.
  • 58a. [Whiny “Game of Thrones” character], SANSA. Yes! V. whiny.
  • 63a. [Shake a can vigorously?], TWERK. Ha! I had trouble with this right up till I had the answer filled in.
  • 4d. [Under-the-table activity?], FOOTSIE. Good answer.
  • 44d. [Computer-to-projector connectors], DONGLES. My favorite British comedy sketch of recent years includes the word: “… but my wife’s seen a few dongles in her time.”

Okay, so that was seven things. Plus there’s CHESS CLUB, another great entry. Not crazy about BRAN FLAKE, though. Who contends with a single flake in a box of cereal?

3.75 stars.

Updated Thursday morning:

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

No “foul play” in this decidedly un-Halloweenish offering from one of the members of crossword’s constructor pantheon. Patrick treats us to four two-word phrases in which the words differ by only the vowel in the second position:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 10/31/13

  • [Young pet with lots of energy?] was a PEPPY PUPPY – my FAVE since it’s an adjective+noun and reads naturally.
  • [Inane babysitter] clued NANNY NINNY – I had NINNY NANNY at first, not sure which order sounds more natural as they are both nouns.
  • [Fully bandaged parent?] was the MOMMY MUMMY – maybe here was the Halloween tie-in? Anyway, another two nouns that could’ve easily been swapped.
  • [Wimp with a big mouth?] was a SASSY SISSY – though I have a visceral negative reaction to the term “sissy,” at least this is an adjective+noun phrase.

I guess my favorite part of this was the creative title, since the theme entries pretty much filled themselves in once you got one of the two words. Nice to start a puzzle with the Scrabbly JAZZ ([Grammy category]) at 1-Across, and finish with an X shared between LENOX ([Big name in fine china]) and NEXT ([“America’s ___ Top Model”]). I do have to cry foul play though at the crossing between [Sponge made by 3M] and [Country crooner Roy]. That C shared between OCELO and ACUFF was a killer, and perhaps the most scary element of this Halloween puzzle.

Speaking of Scrabbly X’s, GO SOX!!!!! So happy to see my hometown share some joy after the tragedy of the marathon bombings back in April. Well deserved!

Brendan Quigley’s website puzzle, “Reed Music” — Matt’s review

Lou Reed passed away on Oct. 27th, and here his tribute puzzle is, a mere four days later. It’s getting competitive out there.

Instead of the standard cram-in-as-many-song-names-as-you-can, Brendan goes for a nice change of pace: a quote puzzle, reading as follows:

ONE CHORD IS FINE / TWO CHORDS ARE PUSHING / IT THREE CHORDS / AND YOU’RE INTO JAZZ. The last across entry is The VELVET UNDERGROUND, Reed’s famous band. I don’t know music theory well enough to understand if that’s funny or poignant, so I need to punt on judging the theme itself. But again, any tribute puzzle that’s not a movie/song/book title clusterflock I’m generally in favor of.

Fill and grid (lots of cheater squares) are clunkier than usual for a BEQ since there’ so much theme. But I can say I LIKE IT to WEBINAR, KATYDID, NASDAQ and SHAQ crossing at the Q, TEAM USA, ANY NEWS? and PUNCH UP. One the downside, lots of suboptimal short stuff along the lines of HEE-CRT-ELL-GAI-AGAR-OUSE-DTS. But hey, that’s poker.

Top three clues: [They excel at Excel: Abbr.] for CPAS, [It typically has many rounds] for BAR TAB, especially if you’re with me and/or Brendan, and [Baking ingredient] for THC (I had T?C and put the L in, no joke).

4.00 stars, one for each day it took to get this tribute puzzle up. Especially a 17×17, that’s pretty quick.

Gerry Wildenberg’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times

So today’s theme is a list-y one: 3 films set on DESERT/ISLANDs. Two, ROBINSONCRUSOE and LORDOFTHEFLIES, are far better known as books. One, SWEPTAWAY, I have never heard of, but Roger Ebert gave it 4 stars, which is something.

So if you started with the downs in the top-left, you may have seen a Halloween (mini-)theme with TPS, STAB and EERIE emergy. That quickly lost speed as one progressed through the grid.

Mr. Wildenberry opted for big corners with 8 seven letter downs in the four corners! Despite those big corners, the answers themselves didn’t wow me for the most part; I did like PENTEL, SEENOTE and ETOUFFEE. On the other hand, the answers ATL, AAS, READEM, and IANA impressed me less.

2.5 Stars.


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19 Responses to Thursday, October 31, 2013

  1. Karen says:

    Thanks for the AcrossLite hint for the NYT. Saved me lots of frustration. I did enjoy the reveal moment of the puzzle.

  2. Travis says:

    I just left the squares blank; it didn’t bother me when I was done. At least my program doesn’t claim a blank square is ‘wrong’.

  3. Martin says:

    “Nobody’s excited to see ESSO in the grid…”

    (Raises hand) “Me, me!”

    Yeah , I’m exaggerating a bit… but just a polite reminder that the brand name ESSO is very much alive in much of the rest of the world, including Canada and Europe. I certainly have no qualms about using it in a grid.


    • bananarchy says:

      Agreed. I don’t get fired up over ESSO, since I buy my gas there.

    • pannonica says:

      Alas, not nearly enough people know of the Esso Trinidad Steel Band.

    • Gareth says:

      I was surprised to learn via a sticker on a chicken farmer’s bakkie that ESSO existed in South Africa until the mid 80’s (I was born in ’86.) I think further research suggested that the Essos are no Zenexes (which are themselves scarce as hens’ teeth.) Just FWIW.

      • ArtLvr says:

        Not sure what Gareth’s Zenexes are, but Exxon Mobil as parent company has many subsidiaries and some retain the Esso name. From my recent notes:

        Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), the behemoth global oil, natural gas, and petrochemicals company, has subsidiaries conducting operations in nearly 200 countries and territories. For example, EMRE is the research and engineering arm of the company, which recently teamed up with a unit of Honeywell in a large contract with Russia’s GAZPROM to modernize the Mosow Oil Refinery. EMRE’s part involves their de-waxing technology to convert the output into low-sulphur diesel fuel to meet current regulations.

        In Papua New Guinea, the operator of the massive PNG LNG project, Esso Highlands Ltd., has confirmed that the liquefied natural gas project is more than 90% complete, on budget, and on schedule to deliver the first gas in the second half of 2014. Esso Highlands, another subsidiary of XOM, will operate the $19 billion project on behalf of joint venture partners. Ownership shares are as follows: Exxon Mobil 33.2% (operator), Oil Search 29.0%, Santos Ltd. 13.5% with the rest split between Nippon Oil, a unit of JX Holdings Inc., and PNG government and landowner interests. The LNG plant consists of one “processing train” with nominal capacity of 5 million tonnes, with option to add a second train to increase total capacity up to 9 million tonnes of LNG and 1 million tonnes of natural gas liquids per year.

  4. RK says:

    NYT theme was really .

  5. bananarchy says:

    I for one loved the NYT. Fresh theme with a perfect Thursday twist at the end. I agree that the drab cluing of the theme answers earns it a demerit, but at least they were consistent, and it did make gimmick more surprising.

  6. Evad says:

    I think the Spanish reference to CASA stems from the phrase MI CASA ES SU CASA (or “my home is your home”) when welcoming a guest. Although you’re not turning over the deed to them…

    I gave the NYT 5 stars for the neat and not-too-scary gimmick.

    • Doug Kelly says:

      Right. Should have been clued “… es la suya.”

      • Howard B says:

        Literal, informal “Mine is yours”. “Suya” would be the more polite choice, although on a friendly editor/constructor-to-solver relationship, tuya is nice :).

  7. Richard says:

    I was fine with the vague clues and did not find them annoying. Personally, I like the challenge of being forced to use some crosses and then being able to figure out the rest. In addition, I do not know what the alternative clues would be to be less vague since only one of the movies would be well known, at least to me.

    I understand the high variance in the ratings with this puzzle as much comes down to how much one likes the trick. I loved it.

  8. pannonica says:

    CS: One of the most bizarre clues I’ve seen in a while: 39a [“Odyssey” hero] ULYSSES.

  9. Dook says:

    In Frankenstein, Boris Karloff is credited as “the Monster”. So I didn’t find the answer vague. I liked the gimmick.

  10. Tracy B. says:

    NYT: I like the visual element in this puzzle—the mirror-imaging, the cross-referencing, and the lack of reflection at the end. An elegant construction. Recognizing the byline helped me crack this one earlier than I might have otherwise. I was totally looking for some trick! and got a treat.

    I still can’t figure out, though, how he got that dollar bill inside the kiwi.

  11. Martin says:

    Great quote and tribute puzzle from BEQ today!


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