Tuesday, December 10, 2013

NYT untimed (Amy) 
Jonesin' 3:44 (Amy) 
LAT 3:20 (Amy) 
CS 6:17 (Dave) 
Xword Nation untimed (Janie) 

Bill Thompson’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 12 10 13, no. 1210

Super-simple initials theme with five lively examples:

  • 17a. [Pen with a fat felt tip], MAGIC MARKER.
  • 31a. [Aboriginal healers], MEDICINE MEN. (Best wrong answer at the Arlington Heights tournament: WITCH DOCTOR. And yes, I know the clue is plural. A lot of solvers don’t notice such things.)
  • 36a. [Annual Vicksburg pageant], MISS MISSISSIPPI. I’m sure almost none of us knew that particular state pageant took place in Vicksburg, population 25,000. In fact, I doubt I could’ve told you what state Vicksburg was in—I might’ve guessed Tennessee. The Civil War’s notable events happened in a lot of states, after all.
  • 45a. [Band with the 2007 #1 album “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank”], MODEST MOUSE. I don’t know their music and neither does my kid. My favorite murine musical performer name is Deadmau5, which of course I pronounce as “deadmau five” rather than “dead mouse.” (See also: Ke-dollar sign-ha and A-dollar sign-AP Rocky.) You can, at any rate, be entirely forgiven for not knowing this indie rock band. Their last studio album was that 2007 one, though apparently they are working on another album now.
  • 55a. Unbilled revealer in odd spot! [Plain or peanut candy], M AND M. This is a little bit bogus as an entry, as the candy’s name is plural and uses an ampersand: M&M’s.
  • 59a. [Pooh-bah], MUCKETY MUCK. I’ve been fond of this term and its cousins, “high mucky-muck” and “high muck-a-muck,” ever since I read it in a novel I can’t track down. Toni Morrison? Zora Neale Hurston?

Favorite wrong answer from a tournament contestant: CANCUN for 47d: [1978 Bob Fosse musical]. (It’s actually DANCIN’.) Runner-up: For 40d: [Mani-___], FOLD instead of PEDI.

Most interesting clue: 46d. [Actual color of an airplane’s black box], ORANGE. I did not know that.

The fill seemed a bit smoother/easier (notwithstanding AYR) than Monday’s puzzle, no? I didn’t time my interrupted/distracted on-paper solve, but it kinda felt a little tougher than I was expecting. 3.5 stars.

Edited to add: Did not notice that (a) it’s a vowel progression theme, with the theme entries each having the same vowel after the M in both parts, or (b) the first four are two-word phrases while the fifth is a single hyphenated word.

Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Round Here”

Jonesin’ crossword solution, 12 10 13 “Round Here”

Fresh angle on the inserted-words theme: Four different coins are inserted into a word, forming compound words or familiar phrases with the second part of each.

  • 17a. [Do a radio remembrance of a late Pantera founder?], AIR DIMEBAG. Airbag + an inserted dime; apparently there was a heavy metal dude called Dimebag, Darrell (good gravy! he was shot dead while on stage), and a dime bag is a certain quantity of pot.
  • 24a. [Metal coating that’s all the rage?], HOT NICKEL PLATE. Rather flat.
  • 37a. [Cater a party for Drew Brees?], FEED QUARTERBACK. What, Josh McCown isn’t famous enough? He’s the Chicago Bears’ backup QB, and from weeks 6-12 of this season, he had the highest passer rating of all quarterbacks. He just led the Bears to victory against the Dallas Cowboys in subzero wind chill. Also? The game is ending now, and they showed a dude in the stands wearing only chest paint for a shirt. I suspect that fan will lose his nipples to frostbite.
  • 50a. [Punch out the clown from “It”?], CLOCK PENNYWISE. Each Halloween that I see a kid wearing a Pennywise mask, I am freaked out anew. And I’ve never even read Stephen King’s It.
  • 61a. [Ubiquitous arcade game message, or a hint to this puzzle’s theme], INSERT COIN. Cute and playful rationale for the theme.

Fave fill: SEX COMEDY. And I like the placement of Margaret CHO beside SEOUL, South Korea, where her dad (Wikipedia tells me) writes joke books.

Unfave fill: Well … URAL, Spanish OTRO/OSO/UNAS/AYER, APSE, HOO.

3.5 stars.

Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Crsswrd Nation puzzle, “Something Extra, That Is”—Janie’s review

cn 12:10Ooh. One of my favorite kinds of themes—especially so today, since the execution yields such smile-making results. The “something extra” alluded to in the title is the addition of “-ie” to either the first or last syllable of familiar base phrases (newbies, pay attention to the title: the Latin for “that is” is “id est,” or “i.e.”). Sweet, no? And the strong cluing—which references the base phrase while pointing to the new one—adds another layer of enjoyment to the mix. Look at how all this plays out:

20A. [Ralph Waldo Emerson essay about iPhone pic taken at arm’s length?] SELFIE-RELIANCE. I’ll spell it out in this one example and leave it to you to do the piece-work in the others. “RWE essay…”? “SELF-Reliance.” Did we all read this in high school? “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” (Please tell me students are still reading this!) “…iPhone pic taken at arm’s length?” Oxford Dictionary’s “Word of the Year,” SELFIE. Or: SELF + IE. Put it all together and ya get yer SELFIE-RELIANCE. Beautiful.

25A. [Breaking news headline about Scrooge running out of clothes?] “MEANIE STREAKS!!”]. Love this. There’s a delicious double entendre in the clue. Is Scrooge (a man famous for his mean streaks) “running out” of T-SHIRTS, facing a closet that’s almost empty because everything’s in the laundry? Nope. Remember, he’s streaking. So he’s running, but he’s unclad. Oho. That sense of “out of clothes”!

44A. [Actress Hawn who medaled at the Winter Games?] OLYMPIC GOLDIE. Hey—that Goldie is unstoppable. It could be. And note that now the added “-IE” is appearing at the end of the phrase. Ditto the final entry, which is

50A. [Surgeon’s order during a bellybutton operation?] “CHECK THIS OUTIE!” Oh, baby! I mean really. What’s not to love?

So all in all, one very strong theme set. And while there isn’t lots of longer fill elsewhere in the grid, what there is “is cherce.” Moving counterclockwise from the NE we get PIONEER; then the two emphatic and conversational entries: “IT’S FREE!” and “I’M FED UP!” (with its punny clue [Exasperated comment by a food critic?]; and finally the so-[Tangy, like chutney]-you-almost-pucker-up PIQUANT. Another fill highlight (running alongside piquant) would have to include the succinctly clued DOOFUS [Peabrain]—which is right up there with stumblebum and puddinghead in the colorful cluing department.

And on the subject of cluing—be it colorful, clever or thought-provoking—hats off to:

  • [A twist of lime?] for the name EMIL. That word “twist” tells us that we’re looking for an anagram—which twists letter sequences.
  • [Theatre-funding org.] for NEA, the National Endowment of the Arts. Yes, I’ve done some teaching, but as someone who has mostly made her way in (and maintains a serious soft spot for) the performing arts, this was a welcome and fresh clue to encounter for a stalwart of three-letter abbreviations.
  • [Pumpkin-hitting-the-ground sound] for THUD. Particularly apt for this time of year.
  • [Walk over water] for PIER. So “walk” is a noun here and not a verb.
  • [Walking sticks?] for STILTS. Circus time.
  • [Quintet on a sampler] for ABCDE. Now, I don’t adore the fill so much, but because it gives me something visual to play with, I sure do like that clue. And I also like the way that “quintet” in the clue is complemented with TRIO in the grid, whose [Music for piano, cello and violin] gives me something aural to play with.

All of which contributes to the pleasure I took in solving this puzzle. Hope it was the same for you. As “on-ramp” puzzles go, this one offered more than its share of rewarding moments, making it a solve with enormous appeal for the experienced solver as well the tyro.

Yeah. I think I’ll come back next week!

The Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier

The Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier

Updated Tuesday morning:

Gail Grabowski’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Name Calling” – Dave Sullivan’s review

So the recipe du jour is to take a compound or two-word term, duplicate the ending consonant of the first part and clue in terms of a famous person’s last name:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 12/10/13

  • [Paparazzo in search of Jamie?] is a FOXX HUNGER – have we ever established if Jamie is any relation to Redd? Funny to see the Italian paparazzi in the singular, as they’re rarely seen outside of packs.
  • [Bistro bill for Roseanne?] was a BARR TAB – if you’ve ever watched an episode of Roseanne’s Nuts, one can imagine her bar tab might be a rather large monthly expense. (I also wonder if the ‘s in the show’s name is a contraction or a possessive, since it seems to work either way.)
  • [Talent agent for Sean?] clued PENN PUSHER – I’ve only heard of the “pencil” version of this phrase (referring to low-paid office clerk), so are “pen pushers” better paid?
  • [Broadcast medium for Mia?] clued HAMM RADIO – I would think actor Jon might be a more current clue, but a nice touch to have two women in the mix.
  • [Sporty Dodge owned by Brad?] clued PITT VIPER – “pit vipers” are venomous stakes native to Asia and Africa.

Straightforward and consistent theme, well executed. Two strange entries in the fill (for me, anyway): I’ve never heard of an E-DATE ([Online social session]) nor a GENE SET ([DNA research topic]). On the other hand, I did enjoy TAX TIPS, SIT PAT and the [Majestic] STATELY.

C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword answers, 12 10 13

It took me a while to find the theme, as solving on screen can hide the bulk of a long clue, thereby concealing the revealer info. From left to right:

  • 3d. [Sultry stretch], DOG DAYS OF SUMMER. How I miss warm weather!
  • 25d. [Slogan on a Boston basketball fan’s shirt], CELTIC PRIDE.
  • 9d. [Vacation with worms?], FISHING TRIP.
  • 11d. [Destined for one’s comeuppance … or what the last words of 3-, 9- and 25-Down are doing?], HEADING FOR A FALL. Summer is followed by fall. Pride goeth before a fall. And if you trip, you may well fall down.

It’s a smart theme that provides three different senses of “heading for a fall,” with a lovely “aha!” moment when the theme all comes together.

The fill was mostly easy, though a beginning solver might well struggle with AGHA, REINE, TORSI, and ERTE. The long Acrosses are terrific: CIGARETTES and “I CAN RELATE” (when it comes to smoking, actually I can’t relate).

66a. The [“You’ve Got Mail” co-screenwriter Ephron], DELIA, Nora’s sister, was on Fresh Air with Terry Gross yesterday. You can listen to it or read an abridged transcript here. Delia has a new book of essays about her family, including her alcoholic parents.

Oops. I just got lost in the Fresh Air website and and read the entire transcript of the Key and Peele interview. Before I wander into the Allie Brosh/Hyperbole and a Half interview, let me finish up here. 3.9 stars. Really appreciated the interesting theme today.

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16 Responses to Tuesday, December 10, 2013

  1. pannonica says:

    Looking at your grid, I can see that I will never have any success at crossword tournaments partially because I simply cannot bring myself to render Es as reflected 3s; it’s three separate lines (L + 2 horizontals).

    • Dan F says:

      That’s not an impediment to success, I promise! (Never showing up? That’s an impediment. #IkidbecauseIlove)

  2. Bencoe says:

    I do capital E’s in puzzles as reversed 3’s and always have. My mom taught me right!
    I went to Vicksburg National Memorial a couple of years ago as part of a road trip across Mississippi to see blues music heritage sites. They have an entire warship taken out of the Yazoo river there.
    I hate to be the guy who says “Oh yeah, well I liked that famous band when they were nobodies,” but I was very active in the underground music scene throughout the 90s and Modest Mouse was a very well-liked band among a very specific group of people, at one time. Kept growing and growing in popularity until they had a huge hit with “Float On”, then Johnny Marr from the Smiths joined their band for a while. Interesting to follow their whole trajectory.

    • A lot of people liked them back then, so I’ve found it to be an unpopular opinion, but Modest Mouse wasn’t worth its weight in cheese until The Moon and Antarctica.

      • Bencoe says:

        I found most people didn’t really catch on until their second album.
        Their run of early vinyl singles was hit or miss, containing some Lo-fi gems along with some misguided experiments. But the fans were few and far between as I well remember during that period, being limited to the arty vinyl-buying crowd, which was pretty small in those lean years before music sharing on the Internet and after the heyday of indie college radio.
        Their first full-length was my favorite. Liked the energy. Much more exciting to my personal taste than future work.
        Second album was kind of a transition from the raw energy of the first to the more polished post-rock of the future albums, which is why I think it’s the one that caught on among the regular indie crowd and started their meteoric rise.

    • Dan says:

      Modest mouse was very big in the 2000s even for an indie rock band. Float On has got to be my favorite song of the last decade even though I am not a huge fan of the band.

      • Howard B says:

        “Float On” was very cool, and Modest Mouse* still gets plenty of play on commercial radio from those stations playing indie format. Would be nice to hear more from them.
        Sometimes I can’t quite place what makes a puzzle more fun than another, but this Times puzzle was just fun to solve all around. Playful themes and fill throughout, big and small, is a part of that. You don’t have to analyze to just feel whether or not you enjoyed it.

        *I still confuse them with Franz Ferdinand every so often though. But we’ll all float on OK.

  3. Bencoe says:

    Is M&M’s a possessive or a plural?

    • HH says:

      Plural. Possessive would be M&M’s’s.

      • Martin says:

        I disagree. Plural would be M’s&M’s, except at the Times where it is Ms&Ms, where it now often appears among the wedding announcements.

        The name comes from Mars and Murrie. The full names were was briefly considered but abandoned because they couldn’t get past Mars’ versus Mars’s for the possessive, much less the plural.

        • HH says:

          Or perhaps plural would be Ms&sMs.

        • Mike says:

          Speaking of M & M’s, my alma mater Wheaton College in MA once received a substantial donation from an alumnus who was part of the Mars candy family. As is such, the admissions building always had an endless supply of M & M’s for free. I have never consumed as many M & M’s as I did those four years…

  4. Gareth says:

    Wonderful theme in today’s LA Times! Nice one Zhouqin!

  5. mark says:

    I think Dave meant Foxxhunter. Great commentary as usual!

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