Friday, March 21, 2014

NYT 4:32 (Amy) 
LAT 6:57 (Gareth) 
CS 5:57 (Dave) 
WSJ (Friday) 11:24 (pannonica) 
CHE 3:55 (pannonica) 

Brendan Quigley’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 3 21 14, no. 0321

NY Times crossword solution, 3 21 14, no. 0321

I had not heard of the marquee 15-letter answer until this past week, when President Obama appeared on the online series to promote And I saw the two titular ferns on the set, I did! 7d. [Funny or Die web series hosted by Zach Galifianakis], BETWEEN TWO FERNS? Indeed. If you haven’t seen it already, go have a giggle or two. I suspect there will be a ton of solvers who find this to be horribly obscure despite the very recent Obamafication.

Other juicy fill includes:

  • 18a. [Drink made with tequila, rum, vodka, gin, bourbon, triple sec, sweet-and-sour mix and Coke], TEXAS TEA. That was entirely new to me—that’s the recipe for a Long Island Iced Tea, and that’s the nickname for petroleum. TEXAS TEA is also purple drank! It contains multitudes.
  • 20a. [Edward who was dubbed “The Dark Prophet” by Time magazine], SNOWDEN. He gave a TED Talk remotely this week that did not, as I understand it, involve any clue acrostics at all. He probably didn’t impress anyone.
  • 34a. [Follow every rule], DO IT BY THE BOOK.
  • 39a. [Became tiresome], WORE THIN.
  • 54a. [One learning how to refine oils?], ART MAJOR.
  • 61a. [Engage in horseplay], CAVORT. Did you know the word originated in the US in the late 1700s and may have been a riff on curvet? I love the word CAVORT.

And this one is just nuts: 58a. [Renaissance woodwind], CRUMHORN. So is 8d. Semicircular recess in Roman architecture], EXEDRA. These are tough Saturday-grade words, and I did not know either one. Oh, and I never heard of 30a. Figure skater Kadavy], CARYN, either. She withdrew from the 1988 Olympics and is currently teaching ice skating in Erie, Pennsylvania. Caryn Johnson was Whoopi Goldberg’s name before she adopted the stage name; more notable than the skater?

Could do without IN A PET/ADD IN, KEA, T-BAR, EDDA, ULT, STENO, ONERS, and NOT AT.

3.75 stars.

Updated Friday morning:

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

So we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a tribute to A&E’s Duck Dynasty, and today, for the first full day of spring, we have four theme phrases that end with a word that can precede [Zamboni-prepared surface] or ICE:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution - 03/21/14

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 03/21/14

  • [“Understand?”] clued GET MY DRIFT – I’m more likely to ask someone if they’ve caught my drift, instead of gotten it; “drift ice” is a new term to me, but is that what’s calving off glaciers as a symptom of global warming?
  • [Ghostly in appearance] was AS WHITE AS A SHEET – “sheet ice” is also unfamiliar to me–could it refer to the surface of a pond or lake (or rink?) that is extremely smooth?
  • [“The Star-Spangled Banner” phrase] was ROCKET’S RED GLARE – this one I’ll just have to look up; “glare ice” is “ice having a smooth, glassy surface that reflects light.” Makes sense, but again, something a term I’m unfamiliar with (and I live in Vermont, where we have plenty of ice!)
  • [Operating profitably] clued IN THE BLACK – finally, something I feel is a common phrase, “black ice” is the sheet of ice we drivers fear on slick roads.

Due to my unfamiliarity with these ice phrases, I had to read the revealing clue a few times to be sure that ICE was supposed to follow each of these words and not precede it. So I guess this one just didn’t gel for me. As an ex-computer programmer, I was misled with the clue [Programmer’s chart, informally] thinking of our old flow charts and not a person who places programs on a SKED, or schedule. I learned that Frank Sinatra’s middle name was ALBERT, and that KATHIE Lee Gifford spells her first name unusually. Finally, I thought E*TRADE was a registered name of an online financial investment firm, not the generic [Online commerce], which I have learned (from crosswords of course, where else?) to call “e-tail.”

John Guzzetta’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times 140321

LA Times

The central revealing answer of this puzzle is [Pentecost, e.g., and what can literally be found in this puzzle’s four other longest answers]. MOVEABLEFEAST, a new to crosswords answer. MOVEABLEFEASTsz are ones defined in terms of Easter Sunday, which varies because it’s based partly on lunar cycles rather than solar ones. The other theme entries have four anagrams of FEAST somewhere within them. I’d prefer if this part was tighter, but it is what it is. Arguably more imporantly though, the entries themselves were colourful. We have:

  • 17a, [Annual Christmas party group], OFFICESTAFF. I struggled mightily to come up with this, even with lots of crossings.
  • 29a, [Humor that won’t offend], TASTEFULJOKE.
  • 43a, [Exercised caution], PLAYEDITSAFE.
  • 57a, [Singer with the debut solo album “Love. Angel. Music. Baby.”], GWENSTEFANI.

A 13-letter central revealer already provides a significant grid construction challenge. That the others are 11 & 12 letters only adds to this. Mr. Guzzetta has come up with an arrangement with double-stacked nines crossing two theme answers and a plethora (30 to be precise) of three-letter answers. The latter is no biggie for me, provided due care is taken. Three of the four stacked downs are nice. I hadn’t heard of a STUNTKITE before, but it’s an interesting concept! I owned a POTATOGUN as a kid, but have only dimly heard of the t-shirt launcher mentioned in its clue.

There were a few out there answers: IIS(!) next to AES and plural SOLS. particularly. I haven’t come across TIEUPS used as a noun before, but seems to google well. The compromises, however, are well within the normal realms of proportion.

Most curiously, the top-left seems to be a shrine to England, with GAOLS, ALFIE, and MUFTI (a British army term)!

Off-beat execution, but an interesting puzzle.
3.5 Stars

Jeffrey Harris’ Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “3-D Three” — pannonica’s write-up

CHE • 3/21/14 • "3-D Three" • Harris • solution

CHE • 3/21/14 • “3-D Three” • Harris • solution

56a [17, 21, and 51 Across all finish with one] TYPES OF SCULPTURE. No-nonsense.

  • 17a. [Gold-rush motto] PIKE’S PEAK OR BUST.
  • 21a. [Sight at a Red Cross drive] BLOODMOBILE. Wonder if ‘drive’ in the clue is meant to nudge.
  • 51a. [What a foil may provide] COMIC RELIEF.

Three sufficiently diverse varieties of three-dimensional artwork. Senses in the answers are likewise sufficiently different from the thematic sense.


  • 37a [One of the Prozorov sisters] is a slightly obscure version of a typical clue referencing Checkov’s play, Three Sisters. OLGA (Olya). The other siblings sometimes appear as well. Maria (Masha) and IRINA (no nickname). Also, OLGA + (PIKESPEA)KORBU(S)T.
  • 29a [Gravy-boat implements] LADLES. Don’t gravy boats typically have a pouring spout, obviating the need for a utensil? Aren’t they typically too small for a ladle, at least a full-size one?
  • Double eight-stacks in two of the corners, but with fairly common letters. PORTABLE / TRIAL RUN and LOIS LANE / END TABLE.
  • 7 of 15 black squares in a row is a large proportion. Especially when they’re simple lines. These appear in Rows 4 and 12, right next to and somewhat detracting of the eight-stacks.
  • Not fond of the redundant-feeling echo between LOIS LANE and 36d [Singer Laine] CLEO.
  • Most CHE-ified clue: 10d [ __ Longa (ancient city southeast of Rome] ALBA. Rather than, say, actress Jessica.
  • Not much playful in this puzzle, either in clues or fill. Closest, perhaps, is the conversational 33a [“Love to!] for GLADLY.

Okay construction, but kind of dry and crumbly.

Maryanne Lemot’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Self-Possessed” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 3/21/14 • "Self-Possessed" • Fri • Lemot, Shenk • solution

WSJ • 3/21/14 • “Self-Possessed” • Fri • Lemot, Shenk • solution

Theme recipe: take a well-known person whose surname begins with S, slide that S over to the end of the first name and add an apostrophe, change the spelling (but not pronunciation) of decapitated surname to create a new word. Finally, clue the new possessive phrase, but still reference the original celebrity.

  • 23a. [“How I Met Your Mother” co-star’s golf feat?] JASON’S EAGLE (Jason Segel).
  • 25a. [Rock drummer’s wood sealant?] RINGO’S TAR (Ringo Starr).
  • 36a. [“Wrecking Ball” singer’s flower?] MILEY’S IRIS (Miley Cyrus).
  • 46a. [“On the Waterfront” actor’s big cat?] ROD’S TIGER (Rod Steiger).
  • 62a. [Best-selling writer’s duck?] DANIELLE’S TEAL (Danielle Steel).
  • 74a. [“Womanizer” singer’s equals?] BRITNEY’S PEERS (Britney Spears).
  • 89a. [Medal-winning swimmer’s coal mines?] MARK’S PITS (Mark Spitz).
  • 96a. [Violin legend’s chance in a game?] ISAAC’S TURN (Isaac Stern).
  • 113a. [Four Tops singer’s soaking spots?] LEVI’S TUBS (Levi Stubb).
  • 115a. [“Downton Abbey” co-star’s tale of the gods?] MAGGIE’S MYTH (Maggie Smith).

Ten medium-size theme answers. Quick breakdowns of content: profession: 5 musicians, 3 actors, 1 writer, 1 athlete – basically, all entertainers. Gender: 4 female, 6 male. Existential status: 3 dead (all ♂, by the way), 7 living. As for plurals versus singulars, it’s irrelevant; some people’s names happen to end with an S. Good consistency and variation in the right places. The most cohesive and appreciable element of the theme execution is the spelling change in every answer; it palpably elevates the crossword.

The ballast fill is strong, with a good mix of unusual words, playful clues, trivia-imparting clues, and some nifty longer answers. A few highlights:

  • 95d [Bear necessity] DEN (though I feel the clue needs a question mark, not for the pun but because some species of bear don’t cultivate dens. 81a [Company that really rates] NIELSEN. 83a [Brand name that rings a bell] AVON. 108a [Org. for the Sharks and the Jets] NHL. 61d [Spot for seniors] CAMPUS. 10d [Head out west?] STEER.
  • 79a [Storybook girl with a dog named Weenie] ELOISE. 16d [Company that began offering pet insurance in 2008] AETNA.

Didn’t understand 11a [Plymouth Rock’s output] EGGS. Was unacquainted with 104a [1957 Alec Guinness comedy] ALL AT SEA. And of course I liked 9d [Asia’s kiang, for one] WILD ASS; others are the onager and khur, and if we include horses there are the tarpan and kirtag/taki.

Française! As well as 19a ADIEU we’re treated to the less seen 63d LUI [Him, to Henri] and 99d ELEVE [Parisian pupil]. 

Low CAP Quotient™ (crosswordese, abbrevs., partials), but of course there are some; it’s nearly impossible to exclude them from the acreage of a 21×21 grid. Additionally, a lower than usual amount of business and financial clues for this venue; the most noticeable was 39d [Greenmail beneficiary] RAIDER.

Fine puzzle.

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23 Responses to Friday, March 21, 2014

  1. Bencoe says:

    The difference between TEXASTEA and the Long Island iced tea is the inclusion of whiskey, in the form of bourbon.
    Any puzzle which has BETWEENTWOFERNS as a gridspanning entry is fine by me.

    • Bencoe says:

      I’d also like to applaud the clue for TAJ as the great big man Gibson from the Bulls. He’s been on my fantasy basketball team for the second half of the season and I personally think he deserves the Sixth Man of the Year award.

  2. Avg Solvr says:

    NE was a segment of Jeopardy!. Not a very enjoyable solve otherwise for me as well.

  3. With a plethora of scrabble points, it feels like it probably started as an attempted pangram that couldn’t find a good Q without sacrificing fill.

    BETWEENTWOFERNS was among my first answers and was the entrance to all the rest of the puzzle for me. Without it, I’d probably be deep within Saturday range of solving times.
    Had some trouble in the top right, but I still enjoyed my solve.

  4. Gareth says:

    I guessed right at the intersection of the two weird names I’d never heard of… CARYN/LANOTTE. Otherwise an exemplary puzzle, I loved the punchy idiomatic phrases, especially the central DOITBYTHEBOOK! The most perplexing clue was [Bush beast, briefly]. This use of bush is from South African English (from Afrikaans/Dutch bos), and was subsequently borrowed by Australian English… So I was looking for something African. CRUMHORN looks weird with a “C”, I’ve only seen it with a K and two M’s… That’s what MW seems to think is the standard spelling too:

    • ArtLvr says:

      I too was looking for a k, but as krumhorn: another source gives “The name of the Crumhorn comes from the German krumhorn (also krummhorn,
      krumphorn), meaning curved horn, or the older English crump, meaning curve.”
      From that I wandered to crumple and crumpets! Yum..

  5. kate says:

    Help! Didn’t get this one (Bruce Venzke, CrosSynergy, Washington Post, March 21):
    Clue: Follower of directions?
    Ans: ERN

  6. Stan Newman says:

    The late, great Jack Luzzatto once had this clue for some sort of liquor: “Two pints makes one cavort.”

  7. Tuning Spork says:

    I had AXIDRA (thinking it may be akin to axilla), TINASTEAS, NINES for SIXES, PUB for PUN, wavered between CARYN and CORYN. It took a while to complete the game of letter roulette to finally get it all correct.

  8. WeThotUWasAToad says:

    Re: NYT
    Frustrating to spend time looking for a theme when none exists. Any hints or tips from the pros?

    • Gareth says:

      With some exceptions (usually commemorative puzzles, occasionally ‘mini-themes’), there aren’t themes on Friday or Saturday in the NYT.

    • Howard B says:

      On tougher weekend puzzles that likely don’t have a theme, the strategy is a little different. You’ve got to just try to break in, get a toehold anywhere you can.
      First try to find any answer that looks like you can get it or at least make a good guess at without letters. Trivia and fill-in-the-blanks are good starts. Try to find a crossing answer that fits with the letters in the first answer you have. If that clicks, great. Fill those in.
      Try to build out from that root; if you get stuck, start again from somewhere else in the grid.
      If something doesn’t pan out, erase. Always be willing to change an answer.
      Good luck!

  9. Zulema says:

    Gareth, LANOTTE is not a name, it means THE NIGHT. Had you parsed it differently, it would have been obvious.

    Amy, was your SNOWDEN comment ironic or just crossword-related?

  10. janie says:

    pannonica — re: the egg-bearing capabilities of “plymouth rock” — this kinda plymouth rock.


  11. placematfan says:

    The WSJ is beautiful. Good theme executed well; and a deftly-handled theme consistency. Love seeing a dectet of theme answers in a sparkly, clean grid.

  12. Linda says:

    I have heard “sheet ice” used to refer to when a lake flash-freezes (usually overnight) due to a relatively rare set of temperature circumstances, which results in a very smooth surface, coveted by some ice skaters.

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