Friday, December 27, 2013

NYT 5:37 (Amy) 
LAT 6:14 (Gareth) 
CS 5:21 (Dave) 
WSJ (Friday) 12:31 (pannonica) 

Ian Livengood and the JASA crossword class’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 12 27 13, no. 1227

NY Times crossword solution, 12 27 13, no. 1227

I generally love Ian’s puzzles and I do really like this one, the first themeless (if I remember right) to emerge from the J.A.S.A. crossword class at a senior center. But! It just doesn’t seem right to have the same constructor two Fridays in a row. Heck, it sometimes throws me off to see the same byline twice in a month in a single publication. Just me?

A tad heavy on the proper nouns here—I counted 16, which means the folks who are vexed by being quizzed on names may be vexed. Me, I like the names.

Toughest bits:

  • 30a. [Caustic soda, chemically], NaOH. Caustic soda, the dictionary tells me, is another name for sodium hydroxide, or lye. The “caustic soda” label is new to me.
  • 40a. [Home of Sky Tower, the tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere], AUCKLAND. I didn’t know New Zealand was home to any distinctively tall structures.
  • 44a. [Island where Artemis was born], DELOS. You know how many Greek islands there are to choose from? A lot.
  • 3d. [Port on Lake Ontario], OSWEGO. Population 17,351!
  • 8d. [“Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat” duo], CALVIN AND HOBBES. Dammit, I should have gotten this one. I was distracted by Ian’s youth and thinking that this was a song title in the clue, and that we needed a musical duo. Whoops.
  • 50d. [“Roasted in ___ and fire”: Hamlet], WRATH. Didn’t recognize the quote. Mmm, wrath. Nothing like wrathfully roasted root vegetables, am I right?

Favorite clues:

  • 34a. [So-called “potted physician”], ALOE VERA. Not a stale clue! Thank you.
  • 65a. [Like Albert Einstein, ethnically], ASHKENAZI. I recently read an interesting article about Ashkenazic surnames. If you dig onomastics (the study of names), etymology, genealogy, and/or Yiddish/Hebrew/Judaism, check this out.
  • 14d. [Who’s who in publishing?], MASTHEAD.
  • 48d. [What stress may be good for], METER.
  • 52d. [Guy with a cooking show], FIERI, as in Guy Fieri, as in the guy I said the Italian IERI (“yesterday”) made me think of yesterday. (You’re welcome!) Loathsome toad. Who wears their sunglasses on the back of their neck? Really, now.
  • 59d. [What means the most at the end?], EST.
  • 60d. [Beginnings of life], OVA. Two thoughtful clues in a row for throwaway 3-letter answers.

Tons of zippy fill in this grid. GOOD CATCH, INSTAGRAM, and NEWS REELS in one stack; ONE IN TEN, RED SCARE, and MASTHEAD in another; then OBAMACARE, VETO POWER, and ASHKENAZI; and the terrific DADS-TO-BE and JUICE BOX with perfectly fine ACT ALONE. Plus the crossing 15s in the middle! And other fresh bits like GIN UP and AUCKLAND. I’m also partial to [Newsman Ray] SUAREZ, who used to be a local news reporter in Chicago and has since gone national/global; talented guy.

It also bears noting that the worst fill here isn’t terrible—just a few little bits like TAI, TAE, and DIT (maybe also OSWEGO). You might think that stacks of longer fill would have junky short stuff crossing it, but the J.A.S.A class was in excellent hands with Ian.

4.5 stars.

Updated Friday morning:

Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Squeakers” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Three idioms that indicate one “squeaked by” something and a revealer to tie them up in a bow:

CrosSynergy / Wasington Post crossword solution - 12/27/13

CrosSynergy / Wasington Post crossword solution – 12/27/13

  • [Barely avoided pitfalls] war NARROW ESCAPES. I thought avoided was a verb in the clue, but I’m thinking now it’s an adjective.
  • [Brushes with danger, say] clued NEAR MISSES. I wonder if dangerous brushes can be used as SETAE to render them harmless?
  • [Almost disastrous incidents] were CLOSE CALLS. I wonder if there’s a theme seed there with this phrased clued as [“Honey, that actress from that Fatal Attraction movie is on the phone again!”]?
  • [What those who have lived through … have done] was DODGED A BULLET. “Living through” the other things reminds me of pretty much any old Batman episode.

I enjoyed this one; I prefer fun phrases like this over something more humdrum, or worse, tortured by adding or removing letters any day of the week. I, and a good friend to remain nameless for now (unless it’s accepted, and then we’ll reveal the constructor’s good taste in working with me) just submitted a puzzle with BOCCE in it, and I did wonder if it should be spelled as BOCCI instead, as it is in this puzzle. But here the clue has the dreaded var. appendage, so I think we went with the better spelling. That crossed [Pump part] or INSTEP, and I’m curious if this is a bicycle pump or a lady’s shoe? I have no idea what they call the part of the bicycle pump you stand on when you’re working the plunger.

The opposing CHOPS DOWN and CROSSES UP are both good, as well as the paired OOHED and AAHED, both clued as [Expressed wonderment]. My FAVE goes to [Behind, slangily] which was PATOOT. Do animals other than horses sport one?

Judith Seretto’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “You Again?” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 12/27/31 • "You Again?" • Fri • solution

WSJ • 12/27/31 • “You Again?” • Fri • Seretto • solution

Once you’ve been solving crosswords for a while you may notice the trope of constructors appending the prefix re- to any number of words to create suitable fill of varying degrees of dubiousness. In this puzzle, the surnames of various folks have been adjusted in a similar way. The results are safely on the non-controversial end of the spectrum.

  • 23a. [Longtime Pennsylvania senator who holds others in high regard?] ARLEN RESPECTER.
  • 38a. [Songwriter who does newspaper work on the side?] COLE REPORTER.
  • 46a. [Three Stooges member who adds polish to things?] LARRY REFINE.
  • 62a. [American poet who converts old films to digital formats?] EDGAR LEE REMASTERS.
  • 82a. [Media mogul who makes a comeback?] TED RETURNER.
  • 88a. [Country singer who likes to relax?] PATSY RECLINE.
  • 107a. [Ma Kettle portrayer who likes to hang around?] MARJORIE REMAIN.

swwtwcAlright as themes go, but REFINE, RECLINE, and REMAIN suffer through lack activation; they just sit there as infinitives, as opposed the -ER of three others which indicate a profession or action, and to the -S of the last, which has an indicative mood. So, three of the seven clunk rather than sing—ouch.

The rest of the grid is studded with some sparkly longish answers, including GEMSTONE, TRAPEZES, ABSCISSAS, FAR NORTH, and ARC LAMP.


  • Misfill at 40d [Codeine, for one]. Had OPIOID but it’s actually a true OPIATE.
  • Favorite clues: 74a [Runner’s cousin] AREA RUG is runner-up to 38d [Something wicked] CANDLE.

Sorry, nothing more to say. Solved this late last night and it’s pretty much a fog. Thinking it’s kind of a middling offering, especially when nearly half of the theme answers fail to regale.

Mike Peluso’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth

LA Times 13 12 27

LA Times
13 12 27

Mike Peluso (whose name it feels we haven’t seen a lot of lately!) gives us some puns based on the names of foreign (i.e. not U.S.) car manufacturers today. I sort of had the feeling it was going that way from the get-go, but it still took a long time to fully piece together an answer and confirm my suspicion. I noted, and appreciated, the consistency of numerical car models used in the clues.

It’s a blurred line as to how far you’re allowed to stray from the original pronunciation and still have a valid pun. Today features one change in consonant, one heterograph (different spelling, same pronunciation, assuming the first word is meant to be “‘owdy” and not “howdy”), one change in vowel sound (from “o” of “hot” to “ar” of “hart”), and one more difficult to define change. I think that last one is a bridge to far. Putting aside whether the original phrase itself, “niece and nephew” is valid as an answer, the change is also quite drastic. Maybe it’s just sour grapes because I had to stare at it post-solve to determine the origin of the phrase.

The thematic run-down:

  • [Facilities on a 911?], PORSCHEPOTTY. My favourite answer! The base phrase of port-a-potty is also good.
  • [Oater pal in an A3?], AUDIPARDNER.
  • [Tales of a 9-3?], SAABSTORIES. Sob stories
  • [Relative in a 370Z?], NISSANNEPHEW.

This is a long-time sticking point, but I don’t understand the poor quality of the fill in the top-right and bottom-left. In places where the grid is under some strain, the calibre of answer found there is more than fine, but why do 4×3 squares need an answer like NIK (top-right) or LST and ARTE (bottom-left). These puzzles are seem by several sets of eyes, surely someone thought “this can be improved easily”?

Other points of discussion:

  • 15a, [Former Dodger first baseman James], LONEY. Not a baseball name I know, but then that goes for most of them.
  • 17a, [Windows Alternative], UNIX – in that they are both OS’s, but really their usages are quite disparate if you ask me.
  • 23a, [Florida University named for a pope], STLEO. I enjoyed that clueing angle even though I had know idea. Apparently it’s a university outside Tampa, Florida.
  • 41a, Boston drummer Jeff et al., NEALS. As a plural surname, it’s a weak answer, but at least it anchors the centre of the grid, where two themers pass!
  • 50a, [Corolla competitors], ALTIMAS. Slightly distracting considering the theme, but a very minor cavil.
  • 70a, [Whooping __], CRANE. A very endangered species always needs some aware170px-Grus_americana_-Calgary_Zoo,_Alberta,_Canada_-head-8a_(1)ness!
  • 71a, [Heist haul, to a hood,] TENG At first, I thought I had an error – that’s TEN G if you were bemused too!
  • 4d, [“Complete series” DVD purchase, say], BOXSET. Very nice answer.
  • 10d, [ID holders], LANYARDS. I like the modern clueing angle used here. Lanyards are those ropy things that go around the neck with keys, ID’s, USB’s etc. hanging from them
  • 21d, [ESPN baseball analyst Alex], CORA. Guess what? I didn’t know him either. I do CORA Dithers from “Dagwood”, but then I probably the last person to still have grown up reading the funnies’ pages.
  • 25d, Shakespearean servant, WENCH. This is a surprisingly sexist term to find in a crossword.
  • Lastly, we finish with a cute, curious mini-theme 54d [Oil source], SHALE; 55d, [Odessa native], TEXAN, and 56d, [Any of several fictional multimillionaires], EWING.

I’d like to like it more, but a number of things grated today. 2.5 Stars.

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18 Responses to Friday, December 27, 2013

  1. pannonica says:

    Not seeing much of an issue with OSWEGO, as it’s also a county, a river, a campus of SUNY, and a historically significant fort. In New York, as in the New York Times.

    • Brucenm says:

      Right — Fort Ontario. Also, Oswego regularly hits the national news for its snow dumps of 5 feet or more in a couple days — not far from the towns of Mexico and Texas NY, where I think they got some outrageous storm of 7 – 8 feet a few winters ago. Maybe the fish has gotten a little bigger with the passage of time, but not much. Also I turned down an offer to teach there out of Grad School, much to the dismay and envy of my U of R colleagues. Surely that alone makes it crossword worthy.

      Liked the puzzle. NE was slowest for me, SE easiest. It’s difficult for me to find an expression as polite as “loathsome toad” for Guy Fieri, and I commend Amy for her self-restraint. I guess that’s not a very nice Holiday sentiment, but I used to love the food channel, and I’m really angry at the direction it has taken over the last couple years, under the direction of That-Woman-whose-name-I can-never-remember. She has turned it into Reality Show crap, with little concern for food.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        Food Network realized it could rope in an audience of young men (whom advertisers pay a premium for, god only knows why) with more burger, junk food, and deliberate overeating programs. Guy Fieri is the king of that; the archduke is the guy who engages in competitive overeating in each episode.

        Bruce, if you get BBC America, keep your eyes peeled for MasterChef UK: The Professionals. Series 6 just wrapped up on BBC, so at some point in the coming year, it’ll air on BBC America (summer? fall?). I got sucked into Season 5. You’ll love the high level of cuisine and the discerning judges.

        • HH says:

          If the Food Network really wanted that demographic, the cooks would all be 20-something women who look good in bikinis.

        • Gareth says:

          Advertisers mostly aim themselves at one demographic: stupid people. It goes a long way to explaining how more and more TV seems to be aimed at that particular demographic!

  2. Puff Daddy says:

    Felt like a few potential Naticks in this one. Enjoyed a lot of the puzzle but those proper nouns crossed in a couple of spots and I struggled. Suarez was fine if you know him, but if don’t there is a lot going on in the SE and too much to infer.

  3. Gareth says:

    NYT: A strange sort of a themeless: tons of easy stuff meant I rushed out of the gate, but three of the four corners were difficult to finish off. I think this is down to mostly easy clues (and two big fat gimme 15’s!), but some hard answers and a few very difficult clues! In the bottom-right, I didn’t know DELOS, TAI, or that particular SUAREZ (Liverpool’s Luis, who can’t stop scoring goals, and is also known as the 2010 World Cup cheat, yes). The clue for OTTAWA was very hard, and I didn’t exactly know VETOPOWER was a phrase. The bottom-left I struggled to parse DADSTOBE to remember that JUICEBOX is a thing, and to spell OBOTE (I dropped it down as a false gimme of ABOTE, sigh.) Top-right I didn’t know TILLY, and REDSCARE, LIST and SLEDS (still don’t know how some saucers are sleds???) were diabolical. So yes, mostly easy with pockets of exasperation. Lots of great answers, helped by the segmental nature of the grid!

  4. pannonica says:

    CS: 24a [Windy City airport code] ORD & 21d [“Beau Geste” author] WREN?!

    • HH says:

      Aw c’mon — If you have access to an online forum, you also have access to Google and Wikipedia. Even a super-technophobe like me knows that.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Junky plural abbreviations are bad, but ORS (operating rooms) is so solid that I wonder why it wasn’t used instead of ORD.

      Googled. P.C. Wren? Never heard of him. The bird, yes, and Christopher Wren, yes. Does CS sometimes cater to the 85-year-old men in the solving audience?

    • Steven R. Stahl says:

      21d [“Beau Geste” author] WREN?!

      Trivia note: According to Crossword Tracker — — that clue for WREN had been used 15 times, not counting today, of course. There are better clues for the word, I suppose.

      I’ve been going through a 1971 NYT Jordan Lasher puzzle, “Words in a Row.” The crosswordese in it takes me back to the days of solving a bunch of NYT-type puzzles a week, and relying on my trusty crossword puzzle dictionaries for the answers to such things as “Japanese salmon.” Nobody could be expected to have MASU in his or her vocabulary, but that’s what the dictionaries were for. The inventiveness of the themes compensated for MASU and other crosswordese.


      • pannonica says:

        I’ve seen it before, within the past few months, in fact. But my point was that nowadays—as Amy picked up on—is that it’s a rather obscure clue for WREN, especially considering the less-than-spectacular crossing it’s paired with.

  5. Maikong says:

    Amy —

    Please be kind to us 76 and 85 year olds. We try mightly to keep it going and are so grateful to CS when they throw us a bone.

    Bruce gave us a very enjoyable puzzle today. Oh yes, P. C. Wren is Percival Christopher Wren.

    Happy New Year and keep on blogging.

  6. Animalheart says:

    LAT: PorschePotty?! NissanNephew?! Lord have Mercedes on us…

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