Saturday, December 7, 2013

Newsday 17:50, 2 Googles (Amy) 
NYT 4:04 (Amy) 
LAT 2:46 (Andy) 
CS 5:36 (Dave) 

Thoughtful quote from Professor Rayfield Waller’s blog, on criticism: “A critic levels analytic disapproval in the hopes of pointing the way to a better conception by pointing out the ways in which a thing, a place, a time, a milieux, or a dispensation has failed to reach its own potential. A critic, in short, is a bearer of hope; of negative capability, and of knowledge through negation, and therefore of value, standards, ethics, taste, judgment.”

James Mulhern’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 12 7 13, no. 1207

The Friday NYT felt like a themeless Tuesday to me, so it makes sense that the Saturday would feel like an easy Friday puzzle. Welcome to Unchallenging Weekend! (It ends when the Newsday “Saturday Stumper” comes out.)

I loved the fill in this puzzle, particularly these bits:

  • 1a. [Big name in 25-Across treatment], PROACTIV. 25a is ACNE. If you’ve turned the TV on in the last 20 years, you’ve probably seen a long commercial for Proactiv.
  • 17a. [“The Help” co-star, 2011], EMMA STONE.
  • 20a. [Coot], OLD GEEZER. Not to be confused with OGEES or “oh, geez.”
  • 37a. [She’s no puritan], JEZEBEL. Would have much preferred to see this clued by way of the phenomenally popular feminist blog, (It gets 13 million unique readers a month.)
  • 52a. [Like eggheads], BOOK-SMART.
  • 61a. [Evidence of having worn thongs], SANDAL TAN. I didn’t know this term existed, but I do get a sandal tan in the summer.
  • 63a. [Player of many a tough guy], STALLONE.
  • 10d. [Fryer seen at a cookout?], BUG ZAPPER.
  • 32d. [Like a type B], EASYGOING.
  • 35d. [Wimp’s lack], BACKBONE.

Needed plenty of crossings for 2d. [Bach contemporary], RAMEAU, and for 45a. [Sportscaster Nahan with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame], STU. And SKEG (48a. [Keel extension]) was a tad mysterious as well.

4.25 stars. Mr. Mulhern, you should keep making themelesses. And don’t feel compelled to strive for a low word count—this 72-worder was fun.

Updated Saturday morning:

Randall J. Hartman’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Bust a Gut” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Though I’ve heard today’s title phrase, I’m not exactly sure what it means. I think it has to do with something that is really funny and you laugh so hard your risk doing some damage to your internal organs. Anyway, the meaning isn’t germane to solving the puzzle, where we have three theme phrases that begin with GU and end with T:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 12/07/13

    • We start pretty upscale with [French author of the naturalistic school], who was GUY DE MAUPASSANT – actually, it’s Henri-René-Albert-Guy de Maupassant, but he was known by all down at the Moulin Rouge as a regular Guy.


  • History buffs may also be familiar with the [Failed English conspiracy of 1605] which was the GUNPOWDER PLOT – while recently in Scotland, I actually learned quite a bit about this assassination attempt on the first monarch to rule both England and Scotland, King James I/VI, son of Mary, Queen of Scots.
  • We get a bit lower-brow with [Midway game] or GUESS YOUR WEIGHT – is “midway” just a general term for an amusement park or fair? I think this term has to do with them being sited in that middle area of a racetrack sometimes. It definitely doesn’t refer to the Chicago airport, although ticket agents sometimes do ask your weight when flying smaller airplanes to distribute the weight evenly.

Rather tepid on this theme and examples, and felt the fill was pretty average given the lesser constraints of just three theme entries. I enjoyed the clue [Celerity] for HASTE as it brought me back to my Latin classes in high school. Google thinks the term is archaic, but I think it’s a great word to use in everyday parlance. DRY LAW for [Beer bust bane] (I bet Bob Klahn came up with that clue) was a bit unusual, but since I think most laws are dry, it came to mind pretty quickly. With the E of SEAMY in place for [Squalid], I popped in FETID, thinking myself quite smart. Oh well, I guess I was due a comeuppance!

Bruce Venzke’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Andy’s review

LAT Puzzle 12.7.13 by Bruce Venzke

Pretty grid. Left-right and top-bottom symmetry. Six 15-letter answers span the grid, with two double-stacks, and a pair of 11-letter vertical entries that cross all six spanners. That’s a difficult construction, made possible by an abundance of black squares and 3-5 letter entries.

It’s no wonder that none of the long entries is particularly flashy, given the constraints of the grid. But it’s impressive that none of them is a clunker, either. EVACUATION PLANS and LAME DUCK SESSION are nice, and I like the clue for LOCAL ANESTHESIA [Number?]. All cut from the same cloth are MADE A DIFFERENCE, CHANGES ONE’S TUNE, and RAISES THE STAKES. The 11-letter entries are nothing special — ADJUDICATES and NECESSITIES — but again, they each had to cross six spanners. I liked LIGERS and CONDI Rice.

LINC and NENE weren’t my favorite entries, and I suspect the majority of solvers will quail at CENTAVO (though the crossings are quite fair). Maybe ADANO/ENID will give some solvers pause.

Good, solid puzzle, but because there were so many short entries, it didn’t put up much of a fight for me. I’m gonna give this one 3.75 stars. Until next week!

Frank Longo’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”

Newsday crossword solution, 12 7 13 “Saturday Stumper” by Frank Longo

Oof! Really tough cluing this week, I thought. I had ERNE at 3d for [Eagle cousin] instead of KITE, which did me no favors in a mostly empty upper left section. I ended up Googling for 5d [Quinque + 1]; that’s Latin for 5, and 6 is SEX. I also drew a blank on 15a: [2013 Literature Nobelist] and Googled to get ALICE MUNRO. The long 17a, [Head shots], turned out to be BOTOX INJECTIONS (I have witnessed someone getting 30 Botox injections in the head, for migraine prevention; it ain’t pretty). Most of the crossings in that section were clued in entirely non-obvious ways, too. 4d: [UN organ], ECOSOC? What the…? Never seen that one before. 2d [Witch-hazel enhancer], ALOE? Not in my bathroom; my witch-hazel is partnered with tea tree oil. 8d [Puree used for a Jelly Belly flavor], ANJOU? Well! Isn’t that fancy. The delicious pear jelly beans are made with Anjou puree. 9d [One leaving] is a TREE sprouting leaves. 10d [Deceive] clues the archaic/British word HOCUS.

This might be the toughest themeless I’ve done all year.

Favorite bits:

  • 57a. [One may be removed many times], DISTANT RELATIVE. E.g., baby Prince George, to me. Something like my 10th cousin 10 times removed.
  • 65a. [Allowing no bullets to get through?], SWEAT-PROOF.
  • 11d. [Some music-box activity], TWIRLING. How much did I love the twirling dancer inside my music box when I was a kid? So much.
  • 12d. [Mule carriers], SHOE STORES.
  • 24d. [Kitchen burner], ONION. Put PILOT in and took it out at least twice. Onions burn your eyes.

Bits I questioned:

  • 46a. [Advocacy group], COUNSEL. I think this is a collective noun referring to a group of lawyers one has retained as legal counsel. Yes? No?
  • 63a. [Convenience on the way out], DOOR OPENER. I have no idea what this refers to. Oh! Now I get it. On your way out the door, an automatic door opener (or a person opening the door?) is a convenience. I was reading it as “on the way to obsolescence.”

If I’d remembered that Alice Munro just won that Nobel this fall, my experience with this puzzle would have been much different. Instead of being so blank-minded in that section, I would have had key letters nudging me towards the correct answers. So maybe this puzzle wasn’t quite as fiendishly hard as it felt to me. Did it take you a good two to three times longer than most Stumpers, or was it more in line with typical Stumper expectations?

Four stars.

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23 Responses to Saturday, December 7, 2013

  1. Jim Horne says:

    I don’t know Rayfield Waller but I like his quote. Thoughtful, consistent criticism is essential for any art form to thrive, and I know Amy welcomes criticisms of crossword blogs in the same spirit. I certainly expected my opinion would come under attack and I was not disappointed.

    By the way, it’s a good thing Professor Waller is so philosophical about the subject but I wonder if he believes that the comments from his own students were provided in the most helpful way possible.

    Perhaps not but they’re fun to read and who knows, they may improve his classroom skills.

    For the record, I often vehemently disagree with Amy but I agree with her more often than not. I continue to enthusiastically read this blog because I love crosswords and I know the contributors here do as well.

    • Papa John says:

      I followed the discussion on the Cruciverb newsletter. Did you have an exchange with Amy or pannonica that I missed?

        • Papa John says:

          Thanks! That sure filled in the blanks.

          I wish I had been aware of that discussion while it was in progress. I would like to have shared my own thoughts and remembrances of the only other online Xword community I’ve been part of, aside from Amy’s blog. Some of you will remember the old HEX-monitored NYT Forum. Even Rex Parker’s gruff criticisms pale in comparison to some of the course, strident and downright nasty posts on that old forum. Tempers flared! Feelings were hurt. (From a purely prurient interest, I found that old forum to be a barrel of fun – especially in comparison to today’s better-mannered blogs.)

          • Bencoe says:

            Papa John–also, look at the vast majority of commentary on the Internet not relating to crosswords. Think crossword blogs are too negative? Try reading the comments page for any popular YouTube video.

          • Papa John says:

            Even in the day of the tempestuous NYT Forum it was considered well-mannered, in comparison to other venues. I think only Popeye ever dropped the f-bomb and he was severely condemned for it.

        • "Mark" says:

          Fascinating. I’m the “Mark” quoted in Jim’s posting referenced above. My name actually is Mark by the way – no need for the quotes, he used my real name.

          Since only a portion of my email was shown, I’ll share the rest here for context. The intention of my email was feedback to be considered in the spirit of continuous improvement. After reading Jim’s post, I’m not sure my main point got across. I’ll take ownership for that.

          I should mention that I’m a big fan of all the blogs. I should also mention I’ve never constructed a xword in my life, I use crosswords as a mechanism to disconnect from the stress of my day job. Reality TV doesn’t do it for me.

          From: Mark

          Some Feedback – the commentary on this site is noticeably biased, and I think you should seriously consider whether you should be commenting on the xwords at all given the main remit of your website. Read the review of today’s xword from Amy and Rex. Then read yours. Ask yourself if you agree with them more than you agree with your own commentary.

          I think you naturally feel the need to be a bit Pollyanna because the constructors themselves are commenting on their own puzzles on your site, not to mention Will’s commentary as well. You are not in a position to be objective – just the opposite, you are in a position where you need to be overly favorable to maintain access and preserve relationships to ensure the content of the site.

          My advice would be to cut back on the lengthy commentary. I think you are at risk of losing credibility. Like Jim did before, I’d suggest only commenting on unique puzzle elements, and only briefly and factually at that.

          And yes, I realize it’s your site and you can do whatever you want ;-)


  2. pannonica says:

    “A critic levels analytic disapproval in the hopes of pointing the way to a better conception by pointing out the ways in which a thing, a place, a time, a milieux, or a dispensation has failed to reach its own potential. A critic, in short, is a bearer of hope; of negative capability, and of knowledge through negation, and therefore of value, standards, ethics, taste, judgment.”

    Uses too many words to tortuously convey a narrow and simple idea. I should know. Far too declarative and falsely authoritative. Also, milieux is plural. Obviously some sort of poseur.

  3. David L says:

    On MIDWAY in the CS: here is a fascinating account of how it came to be used as general term for a fairground.

  4. Dan F says:

    re Stumper, no spoilers:
    Definitely very hard, but not the Stumpiest – top 20% but not 5%. That Nobelist was a gimme, but the top stack was still the hardest section. It had that great Stumper quality where no section fell quickly, but eschewed the occasional “oh come on nobody knows that” esoterica. I had no problem with the “advocacy” and “way out” clues that foiled Amy, but never grokked “music box” and “burner”…

  5. DocHank says:

    Well, there’s critics and then there’s critics… HARD Stumper today! Especially the upper half. I also wanted an ERNE and never once thought of BOTOX INJECTIONS for the nefarious “head shots” clue (I’m 8 years retired and Botox wasn’t in common usage during my practice). Not sure I buy SWEATPROOF for 65A and I’m still in the dark about SALSAS being something chipped away at. This one was a real ego-deflator, as it had at least five or six “migawd, I should have known” answers. No time even to Google today – gave up and went right to this site for more than my usual chastening…
    As a definite amateur in X-word puzzling (tho’ doing one reasonably tough one a week for years, and the SS for the past 8), I’m curious about what kind of minds all you top solvers have, that allow you to complete puzzles like the NYT and Stumper often in less than 10 or 15 minutes and without Googling. I did a lot of behavioral work with great patients in a specialty preventive medicine practice, and I’d be both personally and professionally interested in your comments – hyper-association? loads of practice? fascination with trivia? genetic endowment? strong liberal arts education? careers in college or graduate education? very high IQ’s? intellectual machismo? MENSA membership? Some, most or all of the above? Other?

    • Papa John says:

      D. All of the above. (And thanks for noticing.)

    • Dan F says:

      I’m not really sure, Hank. The top three assets I can point to are a strong word/trivia background (I’ve always remembered words and spellings, but am not a Joon-level trivia maven, not even close); some sort of math/music/pattern-recognition strength in my cognitive wiring; and LOADS of practice. I can come up with something like today’s SKEG because even though it’s rare, I’ve still seen it a dozen times.

      (Not in my arsenal: academic rigor; graduate education; any type of machismo; MENSA membership)

      • joon says:

        beyond having a certain kind of brain, it’s really all about the practice. the kinds of trivia that i am a maven for don’t often help me in crosswords. does it help that i knew charles lamb’s pen name or the home town of the parmenides/zeno philosophical school before i started doing 40 puzzles a week? not a whit. ;)

        and anything i learned in my graduate education definitely isn’t coming up in crosswords. let me know the next time you need to solve a partial differential equation to finish a puzzle.

        for the record, today’s stumper was exactly average for me this year, although this year’s stumpers have been a minute harder (i.e. slower) for me on average than last year’s. and aside from the one 22-minute puzzle, that’s not really because of outliers; it’s just because they all take me 10 minutes.

    • Steven R. Stahl says:

      As a definite amateur in X-word puzzling (tho’ doing one reasonably tough one a week for years, and the SS for the past 8), I’m curious about what kind of minds all you top solvers have, that allow you to complete puzzles like the NYT and Stumper often in less than 10 or 15 minutes and without Googling.

      A large vocabulary, however it’s acquired, is the best thing to have when solving crossword puzzles without reference sources. One potential drawback to the current emphasis on “normal” English words, though, is that it enables a person to take a brute force approach to solving a puzzle. I preferred the Maleska-era puzzles to the current ones, because the crosswordese had its uses in enabling interesting themes. The Shortz-era themeless puzzles are boring because they’re easy to solve. I consider speed solving uninteresting because it doesn’t reflect on a person’s intellect; it’s an overly-specialized skill.


  6. Doug Beach says:

    I’m with Steven. I like a puzzle that lets me know I’m smarter than other people. “Reflect upon my intellect!” I shout to the peons in the cafe when I finish a puzzle. They stare with what I can only imagination is adoration. It’s wonderful.

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