Saturday, March 22, 2014

NYT 6:42 (Amy) 
Newsday untimed (Amy) 
LAT 3:44 (Andy) 
CS 6:09 (Dave) 

Greg Johnson’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 3 22 14, no. 0322

NY Times crossword solution, 3 22 14, no. 0322

Hoo-boy, am I sleepy. All that will keep me awake long enough to blog is the basketbally shouting from my family. (March Madness junkies, check out the sports blog of the newest member of Team Fiend, Adesina Koiki. He totally called it for Mercer having the goods to beat Duke, and he called it last week.) So. The puzzle. It’s pretty good, innit?

Favorite bits:

  • 44a. [Concord concoction], GRAPE JELLY. Started with GRAPE JUICE.
  • 49a. [She had a single-season stint on “The View”], Rosie O’DONNELL. She was controversial, but I don’t think she’s the show’s most controversial host.
  • 55a. [One of Leakey’s “Trimates”], Dian FOSSEY. Anyone have BONOBO first, and then MONKEY? I never knew that Louis Leakey sent the three primatologists out to study chimps (Jane Goodall), gorillas (Fossey), and orangutans (Birutė Galdikas). Trivia! The sort of trivia I think we can all agree it is good to learn, rather than the sort of name-based trivia that some solvers complain bitterly about.
  • 2d. [“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination” speaker], John LENNON. Did not know the quote.
  • 3d. [He directed Bela Lugosi in “Bride of the Monster”], ED WOOD. If you’ve never seen the Johnny Depp movie Ed Wood, treat yourself.
  • 4d. [High rollers, in casino lingo], WHALES. Did we all know this one before it showed up in this crossword?
  • I have a box of BORAX for laundry purposes; it’s good stuff. Was absolutely thrown for a loop by the clue, 5d. [Cheap, shoddy merchandise].
  • 9d. [Green party V.I.P.?], ST. PAT. Ah, the “green party” that is St. Patrick’s Day. I relished the recounting of all the Wrigleyville arrests and ambulance calls relating to the wearing o’ the green last weekend. That blog post may be hilarious even if you don’t know the neighborhood.
  • 41d. [Dirty rat], SLEAZE.
  • Lots of Scrabbliness without a lot of compromise in the fill. Three Z’s, three X’s, a Q, and a J? Looks like a Barry Silk puzzle but isn’t one.

Worst bits: ALTERANT (16a. [Change-making]) isn’t a common word. 18a. ZIP DRIVE is indeed an [Obsolescent storage device], and at some point we should be permitted to completely forget about dead technologies. 28a. [Near: Fr.], PRES? This isn’t such a common French word for non-Francophones. I took a year of French and I still needed all the crossings; usually this would be an abbreviation for “president.” Plural names are rarely good fill; at least I knew 10d. TEDS, [Three Stooges creator Healy and others], from past puzzle work.

Four stars from me. No scowling during the solve.

Updated Saturday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith’s CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword, “Pitching Changes” – Dave Sullivan’s review

Pretty appropriate title with the Dodgers and D-Backs playing as I write this in the opening game of the MLB season in Sydney, Australia. The “pitching” going on here, though, has nothing to do with baseball, but with accidentals:

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution - 03/22/14

CrosSynergy / Washington Post crossword solution – 03/22/14

  • [Annie Oakley, for one] clued SHOOTER – ♯ = SHARP
  • [Oil or timber] was RESOURCE – ♮ = NATURAL
  • [2006 Cate Blanchette film, and hint to this puzzle’s theme] was NOTES ON A SCANDAL – not sure what “scandal” is going on here; I think I’d prefer the revealer ACCIDENTAL TOURIST (albeit a 17-letter entry!) instead.
  • [Plasma product, often] clued SCREEN TV – ♭ = FLAT.

Hats off to MAS for stacking the long theme entries in the way he did, that’s some fancy constructin’ going on there! I wonder if another take on this would be to actually “change” the pitch (as the title implies), by (wackily) cluing entries such as FLAT SHOOTER or NATURAL SCREEN TV. Funny to find crooner Frank SINATRA two days in a row; yesterday we learned his middle name was ALBERT. I enjoyed SET SAIL, MOSSAD, SO NICE, MINOANS and ENCRUSTED in this one. Does SCRAGS, or [Necks, slangily], refer to the napes of animals? Not sure I’ve heard that reference before–perhaps Gareth can help with that one.

Ed Sessa’s Los Angeles Times crossword—Andy’s review

LAT Puzzle 3.22.14 by Ed Sessa

LAT Puzzle 3.22.14 by Ed Sessa

Change the long 14s into 13s in a grid like this (72 words, 34 blocks) and you’ve got a Wednesday grid. So I want a grid like this to be impeccably filled, with some sparkling/visually interesting words.

The answers that seem like the seed entries are the two long 14s, GET A LOAD OF THAT! [Whistle-accompanying words] and THE BIG LEBOWSKI [1998 Coen brothers comedy]. I love both of these entries. Crossing those are two more fresh entries, WHAT NERVE! [“Of all the gall!”] and TALK IT OUT [Chat to settle a spat]. I wonder if the rhyming symmetrical clues were intentional, though I’d eat my hat if I ever heard someone say “Of all the gall!” in normal conversation.

There’s a lot of good stuff in this grid: THE FUZZ, EAST WING, LA TOSCA, LATIFAH, NOTA BENE, …AND OTHERS. BLANK SLATES is pretty good, and STANDARDIZE is fine. SLAB-TOP is new; I like the Keats reference for AGNES [“The Eve of St. ___”]. Never heard of a foon, but it abides by the same naming principles as the SPORK. A SET TASK seems like a thing, though I can’t recall ever saying or hearing it as a noun phrase. If you’ve never listened to LALO‘s Symphonie espagnole, do yourself a favor and go do so now.

I’m willing to overlook the two less-good rows: AGITA ERLE TSAR and EEN ADZE LEM (they’re not OOXTEPLERNON, at least). They may all be common in crosswords, but I don’t mind any of them particularly. OONA, ADANO, SHEB, and LINO are hanging out in the grid not helping matters much — especially since LINO is only there to facilitate the X in FLIX/SEXES, and could be done away with easily.

3.5 stars from me. Until next week!

Doug Peterson’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper”

Newsday crossword solution, 3 22 14 "Saturday Stumper"

Newsday crossword solution, 3 22 14 “Saturday Stumper”

Man, I hate Java. Gotta use Java 7 to avoid security vulnerabilities, but Java 7 is incompatible with Chrome. Couldn’t get the puzzle to run in Safari, either. Finally got it to work in Firefox, but by the time I had the puzzle, I forgot to click the dang “start” button on the timer (so used to .puz files opening with the timer running). So it felt like a tough puzzle, long solve, but I can’t guesstimate the time other than 10 minutes ± 3 minutes.

I didn’t find the puzzle particularly fun, but then I was cranky when I started so Doug had his work cut out for him. So many tough clues distracted me from the fun of the juicy fill! I liked 1a: STARBURST candy, [Product first sold as Opal Fruits]. And colloquial UNLOADS ON. The -im plural, CHERUBIM. “COME HERE.” ALONE TIME! DEMI LOVATO, full name with alternating vowels and consonants, handy for crosswords. “YOU’RE NO GOOD,” you’re no good, you’re no good, baby, you’re no good. PERSNICKETY, a great word, clued as [Antonym for “unconcerned”]. And the fictional LIGHT SABER clued as [Weapon first used in 1977].

Did not know:

  • 57a. [Where Carver taught before Tuskegee], AMES.
  • 25a. [Plastic flute], TONETTE. Blech.

Fresh/unfamiliar clue for LON: 42d. [Suffix for some synthetics]. Not Lon Chaney, not Lon Nol. Or- and … what other synthetic fibers have -lon names??

Four stars, I guess. Not much technically wrong with the puzzle. I don’t care for RELET but that’s about the only grumble I had, aside from struggling to solve the damn puzzle.

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15 Responses to Saturday, March 22, 2014

  1. ArtLvr says:

    Very enjoyable NYT puzzle! As for the French “près”, meaning near or close to or almost: the U.S. has at least four State Parks called Presque Isle (Maine, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) which are on peninsulas (from the Latin paena insula, almost an island)… Also, remember the French song “Auprès de ma blonde” (next to my blond girl)?

    • Brucenm says:

      I also enjoyed the puzzle, and I was red hot. it flew by, especially the NW, with only the SE sticking for a minute. I agree with Amy that “pres” for “near” (which A L correctly spells with the accent grave, which I don’t know how to get), is a slightly random French word, which one would not be presumed to know. Another context which will be familiar to lawyers is the doctrine of “cy pres” — (as close as possible) — i.e. to the wishes of the testator, if they cannot be fulfilled literally.

      Elaborating on A L’s comment, the various Presque Isle parks — (I recently visited the one in Erie, PA) — are not just *located* on peninsulas, the French word “presqu’ile” *means* “peninsula,” “Une péninsule” is also a word, but I think it is less frequently used. A friend who once lived there called it “Dreary Erie, the mistake by the Lake.”

      To further confuse matters, “pret” (with a circonflexe) means “ready” or “prepared;” and “pré” means “meadow”, so “prés” means meadows. There once was an idiot who did restaurant and cooking spots on WCBS radio in NYC, who knew little about French cuisine, and less French than anyone who had spent 45 minutes with the first 5 pages of a Berlitz phrase book. He referred to “gigot de pré salé” as “pre-salted lamb.” Of course it actually means “lamb from salt meadows,” (i.e. lambs who were grazed on the salt flats in Normandy and Brittany, near the Mt. Saint Michel. He also pronounced “prix fixe” as “pree fee.” I won’t identify the idiot by name. :-)

      • ArtLvr says:

        Love your comments, Brucenm — You can get the accents on a Mac by holding down the Alt key and hitting the mark you want, then release and type the letter that goes below it. ` is the lower case of the key under Esc; ´ is hiding in the e, ˆ is in the i, and you can experiment with other keys…

    • Martin says:

      I still remember one of the first lessons of my first year of high school French. It was a Berlitz-like course with recorded dialog, and they tried to make the scenarios interesting to high-school students. This one had a guy meet a girl in a park and ended with her inviting him over: “J’habite près d’ici” (“I live nearby”). A lot of people started thinking about majoring in French in college for that junior year abroad after that early lesson.

      And I never forgot près.

  2. Gareth says:

    Solidly executed (very little junk), but without any answers that really made me stand up and take notice. On the easy side for a Saturday – I had the top-right and centre in about two shakes. More typical grinding then followed, however.

  3. Huda says:

    NYT: Back home, at last (albeit briefly). And this was a good puzzle to come home to. It gave some resistance but unfolded in a satisfying way, enough to make me feel that hours on the plane have not completely fried my neural connections.

    Why does Fired Up need a question mark? I understand it’s meant to lead us to think about irate or something like it. But it feels like the final answer matches the clue too well to justify that “?”. I’m still trying to refine my understanding of the cluing tricks.

    Amy, I agree about the FOSSEY clue, that it was informative in a useful way. Overall, an excellent Saturday, methinks.

    • Brucenm says:

      Huda, I’m not an authority on cluing, but I think you answered your own question. “Fired up” has an idiomatic meaning, which does not literally refer to something on fire, or ablaze (though in some contexts, “fire up” could mean “ignite,”) so I think the *?* is to indicate that there is wordplay afoot, not literal definition. (I always remember HH’s helpful remark that “it’s a clue, not a definition.”)

      I agree with Amy and Huda that the Dian Fossey clue was interesting and informative.

  4. Peter Collins says:

    Grrr. I learned the hard way that LEArjET and LEAFLET (Flier) share a lot of letters, as do tyPeAS and ALPHAS (Socially dominant sorts). Those two gaffes slammed the breaks on what was (for me) a pretty quick Saturday solve. Nice work, Mr Johnson!

  5. Gareth says:

    LAT: interesting seed answers like Andy said. I only knew SHEB Wooley from his hit “The Purple People Eater” which has very little to do with cowboys, so that was weird. Wikipedia suggests he was an oater actor before that. I consider a KITKAT a chocolate not a chocolate-covered candy (automatically translating candy to sweet), but this maybe an American English thing. I guessed right on the hard name cross on Friday, but not today: had LANOX, HAGEL. Anyone else begin with OLEO/OLIO for LARD/HASH? Weird that they both work! Relieved to be wrong!

  6. Sarah says:

    LAT: What was wrong with FLEX/LENO? You could even have a hypermodern LENO clue like “Fallon’s predecessor on The Tonight Show” (Jimmy Fallon took over hosting the Tonight Show only about a month ago).

  7. Ruth says:

    Maybe it was felt LENO and LENOX should not be in the same puzzle? Personally I would say why not, but there are all these stylistic niceties that seem important to some.

    • Andy says:

      I like FLEX/LENO there, but even if an editor were uneasy about LENO/LENOX in the same puzzle, you can preserve the X by having FLEX/AUNT/HESS going across and GLUE/LENS/SEXTS going down. And, of course, getting rid of the X opens up a world of options.

      Because LINO is so easy to get rid of, the only explanations for LINO being in the grid would be (a) FLIX is such good fill that it makes up for LINO being there, or (b) LINO is not substandard fill that needs to be replaced. I disagree on both counts.

  8. Bencoe says:

    Yes. WHALES was my first entry in this difficult puzzle. I used to play poker pretty seriously, though.

  9. CY Hollander says:

    While I agree that près is probably unfamiliar to most non-French speakers, it’s etymologically related to the more familiar preposition après, which may help the educated guesser.

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