Monday, December 9, 2013

NYT 4:02 (pannonica) 
LAT 3:58 (pannonica) 
BEQ 4:31 (Amy) 
CS 5:26 (Dave) 

Nina Rulon-Miller’s New York Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up

NYT • 12/9/13 • Mon • Rulon-Miller • 12 9 13 • solution

Spent a number of minutes groping about, genuinely wondering if this was a Monday themeless. Completely missed while solving the revealer at the unlikely Row 14–64a [Head, as a committee … or a word that can follow the ends of 16-, 29-, 36-, 47- and 61-Across] CHAIR.

  • 16a. [Coerce] STRONG-ARM
  • 29a. [Civicc group with more than 45,000 affiliates] LION’S CLUB.
  • 36a. [Like some broadcast frequencies] ULTRA-HIGH.
  • 47a. [Illicit Prohibition-era establishment] SPEAKEASY.
  • 61a. [Where lifeboats are generally stored] UPPER DECK.

Sure, it’s obvious once you know. Not exciting at all, but solid, solid, solid. And pretty much just right for a Monday. The minimally (or marginally, if you prefer) tough stuff (ELBE, ENIAC, PIUTESSERA) is crossed with gettable material.


  • So glad 60a [The __ Brothers (R&B group)] was ISLEY and not BLUES, as I first had it.
  • 32d [Criticism, informally] FLAK. Only if negative criticism is implicit, which I take issue with. I believe this has some relevance to recent discussion hereabout.
  • 20d [Fountain head?] PEN NIB. Icky fill, regardless of cutesy cluing.
  • The paired vertical sevens give an ineffable robustness to an otherwise scattered feeling grid.
  • Just in case you didn’t know this, the [Abbr. on a bottle of Courvoisier] and its ilk, VSOP, stands for “very special old pale.”
  • 5a [When repeated, lucky lottery purchaser’s cry] I WON. So it doesn’t count if it’s only said once?

Middling crossword, average for a Monday, though I would be more impressed if I learned that this particular theme had never been done previously.

Updated Monday morning:

Alan Arbesfeld’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Bells Are Ringing” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Four phrases where the first word can follow the word BELL:

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

  • [Tricky pitches] are CURVE BALLS – a “bell curve” is a normal statistical curve, with roughly the same number on either side of the average in the middle. Can you remember the difference between mean, mode and median? Off the top of my head, I think the mean is the average, the mode is the value with the most occurrences in the survey and the median is the value where there are an equal number of occurrences on either side of it. So in a bell curve, does that imply the mean = median = mode?
  • [Continental divide?] was the ATLANTIC OCEAN – Bell Atlantic became Verizon when merged with GTE. Funny how they were concerned about the monopoly of the “Baby Bells,” but the way Verizon and AT&T now dominate the market, it seems no better than before, and perhaps worse.
  • [Superhero whose alter ego is Billy Batson] clued CAPTAIN MARVEL – a “bell captain” works in a hotel lobby carting luggage around and opening doors.
  • [Grinder on the dinner table] wasn’t a hero sandwich (or what I would call a sub), but a PEPPER MILL – “bell peppers” are mild vegetables that are green, red, yellow or orange in my experience.

In these type of themes where a word from a multiword entry can precede or follow a common word, I think I prefer this version where the words follow the common word, as it seems a bit more unusual and not as easy to pick up when solving. I felt the fill to this one was also very clean with some pretty unusual compound long down entries holding the grid together: DWELL ON, IN REALITY, TENNIS PRO, AT LAST, TRAIL BIKE, COVER UP and LOST CAUSE. Finally I was happy to see a clue for BAM ([“Pow!”]) that made no mention of Emeril Lagasse, who long ago jumped the shark.

Marti DuGuay-Carpenter’s Los Angeles Times crossword — pannonica’s write-up

LAT • 12/9/13 • Mon • DuGuay-Carpenter • solution

Ahhh, time to start the week …

  • 17a. [“Why bother?”] IT’S HOPELESS. What?
  • 27a. [“Why me?”] WHAT HAVE I DONE? Oh no!
  • 43a. [“Why worry?”] FORGET ABOUT IT. *sigh*
  • 57a. [“Why not?’] GIVE IT A SHOT. Is that a glimmer of hope?

That’s far more open-ended “why” questions than I prefer to be confronted with at once, especially on a Monday.

Grid feels rather choppy, has a bit of a binocular mask look with those framing ELLs and accessory blocks.

  • Some creaky and crusty fill and clues, mostly people: 40a [Johnson of “Laugh-In”] ARTE, 61a [Spoon-bending Geller] URI, 62a [Musical Merman] ETHEL, and the explicit 59d [Old videotape type] VHS.
  • Good to see playful clues early in the week: 24a [Purr former] CAT, 11a [Container for Peter Pan] JAR.
  • If the combusting Tesla electric cars become more of a scandal, can we call it ELONGATE? (23d)
  • In a Monday? OAST, ART I, and … … STOL. STOL?! 25a [Plane for a small airstrip, briefly] STOL? I still don’t know what it is. To the Wikipedia! Short takeoff and landing aircraft. Oh, STOL.

Okay Monday, I suppose, but for some reason I feel a bit down now.

Brendan Quigley’s blog crossword, “Themeless Monday”

BEQ crossword solution, 12 9 13 “Themeless Monday”

The marquee entries have X’s in them: There’s SWEET SIXTEEN, PHONE SEX, “I’m on a MEXICAN, whoa-oh, RADIO,” and the new (at least, I hadn’t heard of it before) XBOX MUSIC.

Other bright spots for me: Steve BARTMAN, NICE GUY, UNLISTED numbers, and the card game OLD MAID. And just the other day, pannonica was expressing her fondness for the SHERDS spelling ([Pieces of broken pottery: Var.]) and here it is, complete with “Var.” tag. I don’t care for SHERDS myself, but I do like potsherd, as it is sort of a same-language false friend to shepherd.

Tough bits:

  • 63a. [Place where you can take your pick], MINE PIT. No idea how this differs from a plain old MINE.
  • 64a. [Presidential Range peak: Abbr.], MT. ADAMS. I had no idea New Hampshire had a mountain range with peaks named after presidents. But! Mount Washington is sort of famously cold and windy. One of my Facebook friends posts alarmingly cold weather updates from Mount Washington. For example, a wind chill factor of –100° F.
  • 13d. [Photographer Barth], UTA. Another UTA! Who knew?
  • 51d. [Transplendent], GRAND. Not at all a common word, this clue. Apparently it figures into the movie Annie Hall, which I either didn’t see or don’t remember clearly.

3.9 stars.

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18 Responses to Monday, December 9, 2013

  1. Amy Reynaldo says:

    This was puzzle #1 at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library’s crossword tournament on Saturday. Out of 29 entrants, there were maybe 4 or 5 correct solutions. You can guess what entries snagged the most people, can’t you? ENIAC, PEN NIB, TESSERA, PIU, AERATOR, KEA-meets-ERTE, RUER, TYR, and VSOP. Now, what sort of people enter crossword tournaments? There were a few teens, but the rest of the entrants were probably college-educated people with a fondness for crossword puzzles. The town is affluent enough to have funded a recent remodeling of its library (too often, I hear of yet another library funding referendum voted down in other towns). In other words, the very sort of people considered to be the target audience for the NYT crossword. And yet! Here in a supposedly easy Monday puzzle, all this crazily unfamiliar vocabulary.

    Favorite wrong answers: For [__ Crunch (Quaker cereal)], ZARN. And one of the younger solvers solved [One that goes “pop” in a children’s song] as WEEZLE.

    • ahimsa says:

      Thanks for that info, it’s fascinating. I would have included JEU in your list. But maybe most folks know a lot more French than I do? I know that word only from crosswords.

    • bananarchy says:

      I wonder how many of the incorrect solutions were due to rushing. I made some stupid errors the one time I competed at the ACPT simply because I was more concerned with a fast time (which is a stupid error in itself) and didn’t check crossings.

  2. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Interesting pre-publication note from the constructor over on the Wordplay blog, by the way: “I constructed this puzzle in 2009, one of my very first puzzles as a raw newbie. I still like it, but I would probably work harder on the nontheme fill now. I imagine Will will spiff it up, so that’s good.” Can it be that in the intervening four years, the fill wasn’t “spiffed up” in the editorial process? I mean, in addition to the troublesome fill I’ve already mentioned in my first comment, it would be a simple matter to get rid of crossing French words in the bottom center by changing ETES (which crosses UNE) to EWES crossing PEW. Such small changes can make such a huge difference in the solving experience. Exercise for readers: Take a look at the ADEN/ERTE/KEA corner and see if you can smooth that one out, perhaps even working TESSERA out of the grid.

    • bananarchy says:

      At a glance, TESSERA can be changed to TEASERS, which would require SPY to be AP-. APP works, which changes STY to STP. Now, the only way I can see the bottom working (and being an improvement) is if PLEASE were changed to PRAISE (then you could have ERTE and ASSN crossing IDEA and KEN in the bottom, among other possibilities maybe). But then, of course, GLENS needs to be GRE–. Lots of options there, but it would change the whole ETES section.

      tl;dr – the fill can be changed to remove TESSERA, but not without cascading modifications to surrounding sections, which may or may not be improvements. Maybe others can do better.

    • Ethan says:

      Isn’t a TESSERA a ration in the country where they play the Hunger Games? That would have been a pretty timely clue. Maybe the entry itself would have been better received.

      • Brucenm says:

        Good Grief. Does anything that threatens to sound vaguely literate always have to be changed to Hunger Games, or Harry Potter or American Idol?

  3. Huda says:

    NYT: I understand that this was a first puzzle by a constructor (I love her name!). I think it was reasonable for her to expect some help in editing. The theme is solid as an Adirondack Chair. Some of the downs are cool with NUTCASE being my favorite; but TESSERA and TYR on a Monday? I come from the land of tessellation but that term for the tile was only vaguely familiar. Overall, the level of compromise is too high and some of it does not seem essential to accommodate the theme. For instance, could PEN NIB have been replaced by PENCIL ? This does not interfere with the theme answers, and one could work around that change and trigger a needed remodel of the SE. Anyhow, I’m no constructor or editor, but it seems like more testing is needed to pick up on the stumbling blocks that typical solvers would encounter.

  4. Zulema says:

    The first non-boring Monday puzzle in a long time. Thank you, Nina and Will.

  5. Gareth says:

    Puzzle felt generally more like a Tuesday, in clues and answers (TESSERA was a gimme, but I thought it couldn’t be right for a moment, because it wouldn’t be allowed on a Monday!) I’ve never heard of a “club chair” before. A solid puzzle, but I’m surprised to see this type of crossword without a cute revealer!

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      As opposed to an un-cute revealer, CHAIR? (Which isn’t in an obvious spot, and it took me a while to figure out what the theme was because I’d filled in CHAIR via the crossings.)

  6. Jeff Chen says:

    Curious, I quite liked TESSERA and PEN NIB. I personally might have gone with PEW, but perhaps Francophiles would disagree, liking the combination of UNE and ETES.

  7. Ethan says:

    Also I liked PLAY OUT. According to the Cruciverb DB, it hasn’t been used since ’97, and with a different clue that didn’t quite capture the colloquial meaning of “let’s see how this plays out.” Also SPLASHY is always a fun word.

  8. Jenni Levy says:

    I liked this puzzle a lot – found it a bit more challenging than a typical Monday which is a good thing for me (although I understand that it may not be overall a good thing for the hobby). I didn’t grok the theme until I filled in the revealer and then I was pleased to see it. Looking forward for the rest of the week.

  9. Adam N says:

    Why didn’t BEQ clue “BARTMAN” as “Part of a 90’s dance craze”? That would’ve been so cool! It’s surprising that it was written by Michael Jackson, though.

  10. Huda says:

    NYT: The ratings on this puzzle look like a bell curve. I’m find it interesting when I see a big spread.

  11. Fun fact: the 5 highest peaks in the Presidential Range were named in order by height after the first 5 US presidents (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe). However, due to a surveying error, Mt. Monroe is actually slightly taller than Mt. Madison.

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