Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Jonesin' 3:43 (Amy) 
NYT 3:04 (Amy) 
LAT 3:00 (Amy) 
CS 5:20 (Dave) 
Xword Nation untimed (Janie) 

The ACPT constructor line-up was released today: Anna Schechtman, David Kahn, Kelly Clark, MaryEllen Uthlaut, Merl Reagle, Mike Shenk, and Patrick Blindauer, plus one constructor who is unnamed for some reason.

Matthew Paronto and Jeff Chen’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 2 25 14, no, 0225

NY Times crossword solution, 2 25 14, no, 0225

The theme is CROSSWORDESE, 55a. [What this puzzle’s capitalized clues are, both by definition and pun]. Or, in the pun way, “crossword E’s.” The other four theme answers are clues for crosswordese words that start with E:

  • 28a. [ETUI], NEEDLE CASE.
  • 39a. [ERNE], SEA BIRD. What?? No! I was expecting the classic and more specific [Sea eagle], which has 47 instances in Cruciverb to [Sea bird]’s 7.
  • 47a. [EMIR], ARAB LEADER. In the Cruciverb database, there are a good dozen other EMIR clues that have been used more often than [Arab leader].

The theme was … not particularly fun, if you ask me. Merl Reagle’s recent “hide the crosswordese inside food and drink” puzzle was more entertaining, what with the theme answers and their clues not being related to crosswordese at all. And I have long been on record as being unexcited by themes in which clue phrases get turned into theme answers. With the blandness of ARAB LEADER and FENCING BLADE, they’re scarcely any zippier than EMIR and EPEE.

Ideally, a crosswordese theme would not be accompanied by many dull repeaters in the fill, but we still have ANAT, ONO, EXE, REE (!), and the awkwardly singular TAPA. Call me crazy, but ANAT and REE and TAPA were as memorable to me post-solve as the lively BANANA SPLIT, ART FILM, AMNESIA, and CLOWN AROUND.

Have you been following the news from Ukraine? Yes, the Parliament kicked Yanukovych to the curb, restored the constitution, and de-privatized the presidential palace. But a friend who emigrated from Ukraine during the Soviet era says her friend in KIEV (14d. [Chicken ___]—pretty much the least topical and timely clue you can use for KIEV) frets that there’s no effective police force in place, and if you need the cops’ assistance, there’s no guarantee anyone will come to your aid. And the country’s finances remain a mess, so Ukraine’s not out of the woods yet. Putin (whom another Ukrainian friend calls “the new Stalin”) makes me nervous, too; he hates losing satellites of Russia. Also, Venezuela is in upheaval with the same sort of cops/paramilitary-vs.-the-people conflict going on. Sigh.

Three stars for the puzzle.

Matt Jones’s Jonesin’ crossword, “Letter Chop”

Jonesin' crossword solution, 2 25 14 "Letter Chop"

Jonesin’ crossword solution, 2 25 14 “Letter Chop”

Matt is one of crossworddom’s leading practitioners of the “play with the form, shape, or directionality of a letter” theme. This one chops a B into stacked D’s:

  • 5d. [Country star known for hot alcoholic drinks?], TODDY KEITH. Toby Keith, hot toddy.
  • 13d. [Measurement system of what’s more pathetic?], SADDER METRICS. Sabermetrics in baseball.
  • 15d. [Dorothy’s footwear, but in a less glamorous shade?], RUDDY SLIPPERS. Ruby slippers.
  • 29d. [Farmers who just won’t shut up about milking techniques?], UDDER GEEKS. Übergeeks.

I pretty much always appreciate a theme that plays with the physical shape of letters like this, and this puzzle doesn’t break that streak.

Did not know: 39a. [“___ Eightball” (Emily Flake comic)], LULU. So now I’ve Googled it and found an archive of Lulu Eightball comics up through 2010, and the first one I looked at is both NSFW (in both themes and language and images! yes, three boths) and probably offensive to a large number of people. Made me laugh, though.

Three more things:

  • 40a. [Baby-dressing photographer Geddes], ANNE. I like this clue. If you can’t stand Anne Geddes’ baby pictures, watch this NSFW parody video. Or look at Vice’s slide show of Geddes-style pictures of adults.
  • 31a. [Flip side?], HEADS. As in “Heads or tails?” Good clue.
  • Did you notice that the depilatory NAIR (53d) is running right through the SILKY (63a) TRESS (66a)? That’s gonna leave a bald streak.

The fill is a bit name-heavy, which puts it right up my alley but running athwart a lot of other people’s alleys.

4.5 stars because of the theme.

Updated Tuesday morning:

Raymond Hamel’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “All Set” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Four phrases that begin with something that can be “set”:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword puzzle - 02/25/14

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword puzzle – 02/25/14

  • [Music publishing company] was RECORD LABEL – I have a sense that there weren’t as many records broken (or “set”) in the Sochi Olympics, but I can’t say I followed them closely enough to be sure. Nice how record in this sense is different than the theme sense.
  • Interesting trivia: [Olympic sport with the smallest ball] was TABLE TENNIS – if golf were an Olympic sport would it win this honor? Perhaps NPR’s Puzzlemaster and table tennis aficionado Will Shortz could weigh in on this. Did you hear the bit where his 2013 New Year’s resolution was to play table tennis (aka “ping pong”) every day of the year, and he succeeded?
  • [Big Ben’s home] wasn’t Amy’s home in Chicago (her son is named Ben, and apparently “big” in the field of academics as he was accepted into many area private school programs recently), but CLOCK TOWER – I have to set a ship’s clock in my living room every week as it runs fast, and I can’t seem to adjust it to run on time.
  • Finally, [Emergency exit] clued FIRE ESCAPE – it was 10 degrees (F) here when I woke up this morning, so setting a fire sounds lovely.

Bravo for no revealer on this one! I’m happy for the times constructors respect their solvers enough to make them work to find out how the themes are connected, relying on the title to give them a nudge in the right direction. And if they fail, there’s always us here at Fiend Central to break through the fog. I’m not a fan of HOBOS as [Rail riders], since it seems to me the term disparages the homeless and also associates them with an activity of long ago. OTOH, I enjoyed seeing TECH clued as [Word in many college names], since I went to an engineering school (RPI), but we were more likely to call it “the ‘tute,” short for Institute. MOISTENED, SEVEN SEAS, MORLOCKS, CYCLONES and SLEAZE round out a nice set of middle-length entries.

Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Crsswrd Nation puzzle, “Got the T-Shirt!”—Janie’s review

Crossword Nation 2/25/14

Crossword Nation 2/25/14

Didja ever have one of those solves when you had no idea what the theme was while solving—or even once you’d finished the puzzle? And then, after running the theme fill through your head again (and again…) it dawned on you—giving you an authentic “aha-moment” to savor? Well, that was my experience with today’s puzzle and I totally loved it. No circles to highlight the critical fill; no clues helping us to pull everything together. Sweet! And what is the theme? I think of it as a deft and dynamic “homage to ennui” as delivered through four anything-but-“over it” phrases (two of which are grid-spanners).

  • 20A. “BEEN TO CANAAN” [Hit single from Carole King’s “Rhymes & Reasons” album]. When Ms. King was in high school, she was still Carol Klein. Neil Sedaka had dated her back then and it’s said she became the inspiration for his hit, “Oh! Carol.” All this trivia and more in Beautiful, the pretty respectably-reviewed Carole King tribute-show now on Broadway.
  • 35A. “THERE YOU GO AGAIN…” [Memorable presidential debate line]. Rich clue. So many candidates (from so many candidates…) though not so many 15-letter ones. Here’s a succinct collection of some of the more memorable presidential (and vice-presidential) debate moments. Okay. Two themers down. No way am I seeing a theme emerge—even using the title to help me focus on what it might be… Next up:
  • aerosmith41A. DONE WITH MIRRORS [Aerosmith studio album whose back-to-front text can be read with a looking glass]. While I know who Steve Tyler is, am not sure I’ve listened to/heard more than maybe three Aerosmith songs from beginning to end (maybe as part of an SNL appearance?) or would recognize one by its opening measures. But. That is one great album title, no? How it informs the theme, though—well, I’m still clueless. Nor do I get any help from:
  • 54A. “THAT WAS CLOSE!” [“Whoa, I almost fell into that sinkhole!”]. “Whoa” indeed! There was a sinkhole story on the local news this past Friday. I’m not someone who adores cell phones, but this is one case where having one (and using it…) undoubtedly led to a swift rescue. And a successful one, too, happily. But what on earth is this puzzle about?!?

Again, if you’re at a loss, try running the phrases through your head. In sequence. Maybe hit the first word of each phrase a little harder than the words that follow. Does anything start to emerge? Like maybe:

t-shirtElegant! Well, maybe not the t-shirt, but definitely the way everything comes together. Kinda like a meta-puzzle. Cracking the theme may have been tougher for the TYRO solvers out there, but having the challenge amped up a notch every now and then is a good thing. It stretches your solving ability, makes your brain work a little harder than usual. And again, when the pay-off is this good, a little head-slap once it all coalesces doesn’t feel so punishing.

You know what else is good? A lotta the non-theme fill and clues, too. At the top of the list: COMEDIENNES [Stand-up kind of gals?]—as in “stand-up” comedy, a really challenging arena for comediennes. Sarah Silverman, Ellen DeGeneres, Tig Notaro, ET AL. thank you, Joan Rivers, for paving the way. “HI, HONEY!” and “I RESIGN!” speak out to us and give the puzzle additional “presence” and liveliness. Their clues make us think twice, too—which I take as a “plus”: [Sweet text from a spouse?] with its “sweet”/honey wordplay; and the non-Revolutionary-American [Declaration of independence?]. And in this week-after-the-Olympics, fictional Russian character NATASHA and real Russian composer DMITRI Shostakovich remind us of the breathtaking and dramatic backdrop of the Sochi games.

cover[Damp mop?] is one terrific clue for WET HAIR, but (at the risk of being a wet blanket…) I find wet hair to be fill that raises a flag, calls attention to itself. Yes, it’s a real phrase, but (fer my money…) it feels contrived, two words that we sometimes put together. I was hoping it would play out as WET HEAD (as in “The wet head is dead” ad campaign for The Dry Look [men’s hairspray…]). Ah, well. Do like that either way it allowed for the [Leaves in a small bag?] TEA combo, where “leaves” is not a verb but a noun. This cluing trick almost always comes up “fresh” for me. Today was no exception.

One more polar vortex to go—so here’s hopin’ that’ll be this winter’s last major blast. Oh! (or maybe make that “ACH!”), for another kind of blast, check out (and download!) Liz’s most recent book of puzzles (and free sample) over at the Puzzazz site. Ten brand new Sunday-size connect-the-dot puzzles by the woman who invented the style. Congrats, Liz!

C.C. Burnikel’s Los Angeles Times crossword

LA Times crossword solution, 2 25 14

LA Times crossword solution, 2 25 14

Quickly, because I’ve got to run: What a neat theme! I didn’t see the revealer coming and boom, the puzzle made sense. 56a. [“Star Wars” droid, and a hint to letters shared by 17-, 22-, 35- and 47-Across] clues ARTOO DETOO (aka R2-D2) and those other four answers have two R’s in the first word, two D’s in the second word, and no extraneous R’s or D’s to muddle the theme:

  • 17a. [Dangerously sharp], RAZOR-EDGED.
  • 22a. [“Curb Your Enthusiasm” creator], LARRY DAVID.
  • 35a. [Common pump choice], REGULAR UNLEADED. You’d think that “unleaded” would no longer figure into the equation, given that leaded gasoline has not been sold in the US for about 40 years, but it lingers on.
  • 47a. [Gnarly one on the waves], SURFER DUDE.

Two full names class up the grid: J.D. SALINGER and RED SKELTON. As do the colloquial spoken phrases: “GO HOME!” and “NO, REALLY!” Outmoded NES, awkward AIRERS, and crosswordese TUN are about the worst the puzzle offers, and they’re not so terrible. Overall, smooth fill, nifty theme. 4.25 stars from me.

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22 Responses to Tuesday, February 25, 2014

  1. Ethan says:

    I thought the puzzle was well-made, but this theme was a little too insider-y for me. Monday/Tuesday is supposed to be an entry point for novices to discover the joy of puzzles, yet here’s a Tuesday that you really need to be a veteran solver to appreciate, and that basically calls attention to a major deficiency of American crossword puzzles as entertainment. This kind of thing is much more suited for a hip indie puzzle with an already-savvy audience.

  2. Sarah says:

    This puzzle seems likely to alienate a few solvers. Some consider crosswordese to be words that are basically not used outside of crosswords. EPEE, in particular, is an Olympic event watched by lots of people every 4 years at the Olympics.

    • Avg Solvr says:

      I thought epee was what The Sims do.

    • Ethan says:

      Yeah, and to me, EMIR isn’t crosswordese either. (It’s not like people haven’t heard of the United Arab Emirates, right?) Now variants AMIR and AMEER on the other hand…
      On That Other Blogger’s website, he refers to OBOE and AFRO as crosswordese which I don’t see at all. I’ve known what both of those things were since about the third grade.

      • David L says:

        Surely there are two types of crosswordese. There are obscure words (ETUI et al) and unlikely abbrevs (ANAT…) that you don’t really see except in crosswords, and then there are perfectly respectable words (OBOE, AFRO, EMIR, etc) that you see in crosswords a whole lot more than in real life.

        I can’t be the only solver who experiences a certain sinking of the heart on seeing yet another EPEE crossing yet another OBOE. It might make an interesting Olympic event, though.

        • Ethan says:

          It really depends on whether there’s good stuff around it. If I’m making a puzzle and I have a tough-to-fill area with some awesome entries, and the worst compromise I have to make is OBOE crossing EPEE, I’m ecstatic. My heart would only sink if OBOE crossing EPEE is one of the *better* crossings in a given area of a puzzle.

      • Amy Reynaldo says:

        I very nearly singled out OBOE for mention myself. Yes, it’s a standard musical instrument that kids learn about in music class (unless their school’s budget for music instruction was cut), but it sure as hell does show up in crosswords. I would not be surprised if OBOE actually had more appearances in crosswords in the last couple years than all other musical instruments combined. It bores me every time I see it, even if there’s a fresh clue.

  3. HH says:

    Good on the Jonesin’ puzzle. I’ve always preferred double-Ds to Bs anyway.

  4. HH says:

    As for REE … am I the only one here who’s heard of these guys? http://williamsandree.com/

  5. Pat says:

    Where are the answers for 2/25/14?

  6. Jeffrey K says:

    Golf will be an Olympic sport in 2016.

  7. Gareth says:

    Of course this theme was done fairly recently in the NYT during that old constructors week… The most interesting thing was the official acknowledgement of the term crossword-ese. I wouldn’t call EPEE (as @Sarah said) or EMIR crossword-ese in the truest sense though. Those are part of most educated people’s standard vocabularies, I hope.

    LAT: We have unleaded and LRP (lead replacement petrol) here. Lovely, unexpected revealer!

  8. Jim Peredo says:

    Xword Nation: I knew the theme before I put a word into the grid only because I made a puzzle with the exact same theme! It’s already been accepted, but still awaiting publication. I wonder if Liz’s puzzle today will push mine back, but as it’s already been 13 months since acceptance, I’m not holding my breath.

    • Gareth says:

      I doubt it’ll affect things either way. I pretty sure I’ve read both Rich and Will don’t pay much attention to what other publications put out. I’ve got a puzzle awaiting publication with a recently (ca. January, I think) used theme too!

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Different puzzles have largely different audiences, so you shouldn’t see any delay because of Liz’s puzzle. “Great minds think alike.”

  9. Matt J. says:

    Just to clarify on this week’s puzzle: You may have noticed that the split Ds in the puzzle are the only Ds in the grid, and just for the sake of it, there aren’t any Bs in the grid either.

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