NYT 3:57 (Amy)
Tausig untimed (Amy)
LAT 4:42 (Gareth)
CS 10:28 (Ade)
David Kahn’s New York Times crossword
You see David Kahn’s byline in the NYT and you start to play a guessing game. Who died? What’s the big centennial or bicentennial right now? Something is being commemorated, or it’s baseball, or it’s opera. This one commemorates the notable selection of the MERCURY SEVEN astronauts exactly … 55 years and 14 days ago? Huh. Makes as much sense as running a 102nd anniversary Titanic puzzle last week, right? I know! It’s a Will Shortz hidden contest, and the first two pieces of data that figure into the meta are 102 and 55 14/365ths. Write those down.
Here are the seven spacemen:
- 1a. [WALLY] SCHIRRA.
- 8a. [GUS] GRISSOM.
- 41a. [ALAN] SHEPARD.
- 72a. [DEKE] SLAYTON.
- 36d. [SCOTT] CARPENTER.
- 49d. [GORDON] COOPER. Best known as The Astronaut Nobody Remembers, I think.
- 57d. [JOHN] GLENN.
Rounding out the theme, to fill in the spots that need symmetry partners, we have:
- 71a, 1d. [With 1-Down, first American astronauts], MERCURY / SEVEN.
- 9d. [NASA vehicle], ROCKET.
- 12d. [Old U.S./Soviet rivalry], SPACE RACE.
I think commemorative puzzles are a little more fun when they hit during a period of high interest, when the media is paying attention to the topic and the theme resonates. (Then again, it can also be overload. “Oh, no! Not the puzzle, too! I’m so sick of this subject already.”)
With over 80 theme squares, you expect to see compromises in the fill. For instance:
- 18a. [Volatile solvents], ACETALS. All crossings for me. Lucky I knew OLLA.
- 25a. [What is cast, in a saying], THE DIE. Basically a 6-letter partial, not so much “in the language” as a phrase unto itself.
- 28a. [River of Hesse], EDER.
- 37a. [Improper], NOT OK. Not sure how many “not [adjective]” phrases are truly crossword-worthy. I’m thinking NOT EELY would really be a boon to constructors.
- 48a. [Very high trumpet note], SUPER C. Never heard of this. Am not a trumpeter.
- 38d. [Unstable subatomic particle], KAON. Oh, man! I was working through all the crossings of 37a and piecing that answer together, but this K was more of a calculated guess than something I was certain about.
- 13d. [It’s a crock], OLLA. If you don’t know your crosswordese, this clue might well have you thinking “Oh, OLLA must mean something like bullsh!t.” (It’s a ceramic pot.)
I do like seeing VAMOOSE in the grid, but that’s about the only bit of zing outside of the theme. 2.75 stars.
Doug Peterson’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Take a Powder”—Ade’s write-up
Good morning, and happy hump day! (Can I get a “WHOOT-WHOOT,” a la the talking camel in the Geico commercial?)
A very smooth puzzle and theme by the über-talented Mr. Doug Peterson for this Wednesday, as the five theme answers in this grid all start with words that can follow the word “powder.” As I was doing the puzzle, I was thinking of words that can precede the same word: baby, face, gun, talcum, etc. Yes, I’m a backwards thinker while doing crossword puzzles sometimes…
- PUFF PASTRY: (17A: [Beef Wellington wrapper]), from Powder Puff…Do you think about the face pad for make-up application, or the sorority football games that occur on college campuses when you hear powder puff?
- HORN-RIMMED: (26A: [Like a hipster’s eyeglasses]), from Powder Horn…Living not too far from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, I’ve seen my share of those specs.
- ROOM TEMPERATURE: (39A: [It’s around 70 degrees, usually]), from Powder Room
- BLUE CHEESE: (51A: [Salad dressing selection]), from Powder Blue…does anyone not like blue cheese? If you don’t, then you’ll be joining me in that minority!
- KEG PARTIES: (61A: [Beer-fueled bashes]), from Powder Keg…Keg Parties, the events I NEVER attended while in college, because I was a student solely focused on my studies! At least that’s the story that I’m sticking to.
I actually started this puzzle last night, while watching the Brooklyn Nets/Toronto Raptors NBA playoff game, which took place at the home of the Raptors: CENTRE (50D: [Toronto’s Air Canada ______]). Talk about a cool coincidence once I came across that clue. Some of the nice fill in this grid included AU JUS, which I’ve never come across before in a puzzle (36D: [In its own gravy]), and also LAND HO (28A: [Cry from the crow’s nest]). Getting “crow’s nest” in a grid would be even better! The proper nouns were no trouble, with TALIA (14: [Shire of the “Rocky” films]), JOSH (10A: [“You Raise Me Up” singer Groban]) and DEAN (19A: Rat Pack crooner ____ Martin]). With all those names, almost disappointing that STERN (1A: [Rowboat’s rear]) wasn’t clued as “King of All Media.” There’s also our favorite national television ogler of girlfriends of college quarterbacks, BRENT Musburger (51D: [Sportscaster Musburger]). If you want to have fun, but not doing so at KEG PARTIES, take a look at the rules of the Brent Musburger drinking game. It’s slightly outdated, but fun to follow nonetheless. As the page states: “Play at your own risk. It is conceivable your whole party will be passed out with 8 minutes remaining in the first quarter.”
There’s a good number of crosswordese in the puzzle, specifically the five-letter two-word answers, like ONE AM (11D: [Graveyard shift hr.]), SEE ME (38D: [Curt summons from one’s boss]) and I’M SET (32A: [“No more for me”]). Originally put I’M OUT first for that, costing me a few seconds.
“Sports “will” make you smarter” moment of the day: RIVERA (41D: [Retired relief pitcher Mariano])– When you’re a New York Yankee and you get an ovation from Boston Red Sox fans at Fenway Park, you know you’re a special player. That’s exactly what happened to former Major League pitcher Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer and one of the nicest gentlemen the game has ever seen, when he played his last series in Boston during his farewell tour last season. Maybe the Red Sox fans cheered because they remembered that he and the Yankees CHOKED (48D: [Didn’t come through in the clutch]) and blew that 3-0 series lead in the 2004 American League Championship Series. Other than that, it was almost impossible for batters against Rivera to get a HIT (29D: [Battleship success]) off of him because of his famous “cutter,” a pitch that resembled a slider that bore in on left-handed batters, usually breaking their bats while attempting to hit the ball. As great as he was in the regular season, he was lights out in the the playoffs, leading all pitchers in Major League history in saves (42) and earned run average (0.70) in postseason play. Seriously, an ERA of UNDER ONE in the playoffs? In 141.0 innings pitched? IN-SANE!
Thank you all for the time, and have a safe landing going down the hump while heading towards Thursday. See you all tomorrow!
Ben Tausig’s Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, “Converse Shoes”
Converse isn’t just a brand of sneakers; it’s also an adjective pertaining to reversal. The hidden backwards words (in the circled squares) are all types of shoes:
- 17a. [November 24, 1963 assassination victim], LEE HARVEY OSWALD. HEEL, although it’s a little weird to refer to just one.
- 27a. [Financial crisis designation], TOO BIG TO FAIL. BOOT. Rock solid.
- 48a. [Breakfast in bed, say, that’s almost always eaten in disgust] HOSPITAL FOOD. FLAT. As with heels, awkward in the singular.
- 61a. [Mated for specific traits], SELECTIVELY BRED. DERBY, the least familiar of the shoe types. I had to look it up. Here’s an explanation of Derby vs. Oxford shoes … but the photos aren’t captioned and the explanation isn’t crystal-clear to me. I think the lighter-colored shoe on the left is a Derby.
Seven more things:
- 45a. [One in a dependent relationship?], PARASITE. I quizzed my husband yesterday: “Do you know what Katy Perry’s fans are called?” The correct answer is Katy Cats, but how I wish his answer was true: Perrysites.
- 6a. [Certain white powder, casually], TALC. You wanted COKE or BLOW, didn’t you? Tsk.
- 14a. [Put in prison], EMBAR. Blechiest word in the grid.
- 2d. [A black cat carrying a mirror under a ladder, say], OMEN. “Stop! You don’t have opposable thumbs! You’ll drop it!”
- 9d. [Deepak with a holistic approach to being very rich], CHOPRA. Sounds about right.
- 18d. [“Star Wars” president], REAGAN. Dang it, I thought this was a movie clue. It’s the ill-fated missile defense program nicknamed Star Wars, not the flick.
- 24d. [About to get a Ph.D., definitely, if not this year then sometime in the next five], ABD. “All but dissertation.”
3.5 stars. Didn’t love the theme—the shoes don’t all singularize well, Derby didn’t feel familiar at all, and the long phrases weren’t especially zesty. But as always with a Tausig puzzle, there are some entertaining clues along the way to keep me engaged.
Matt Scoczen’s Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review
Confession. I had never heard the phrase AHAMOMENT until hanging around in crossnerdy circles. It’s been around since 1939, according to MW. Mr. Skoczen’s choice to use AHAMOMENT to reveal the theme is cleverly in-jokey. The interpretation of this phrase into “phrases that form the pattern A* HA*” is both very basic and very elegant. The four phrases work fine; they didn’t make me go “ooh!” but given that I don’t think there are that many theme entry choices available, that’s perfectly OK. The answers are:
- 17a, [“The Autobiography of Malcolm X” collaborator], ALEXHALEY
- 24a, [“The helpful place” sloganeer], ACEHARDWARE. I didn’t know this, because I’m not American, but Wikipedia suggests they have 4,077 outlets, so I assume the name is familiar to most?
- 36a, [Many a circus employee], ANIMALHANDLER. A lot of anthropomorphising bunny huggers locally are protesting the use of animals in circuses. I think they’re being far too black and white about it, but certainly big cats and elephants for instance are wholly unsuited to being in circuses…
- 53a, [“Wayne Manor resident”], AUNTHARRIET. I didn’t think of her immediately…
I ended up writing a lot of notes on a lot of different entries today. Rather than try and synthesise these into coherent, well-planned paragraphs, I’m going to be lazy and just list the answers I chose to highlight, in order:
- 5a, [48-Across brand], SOBE and 21a, [Google executive chairman Schmidt], ERIC were my two other unknowns today. American brands and corporates are not big knowledge areas for me.
- 32a, [Belmonts frontman], DION. Not exactly earth-shattering lyrics, but beautiful vocal harmonies!
- 42a, [Scheherazade’s milieu], HAREM. I appreciated the clue angle. I also think SCHEHERAZADE would be a fun answer in a themeless!
- 67a, [Calf-roping loop], NOOSE. You had R?ATA first, didn’t you? I did.
- 1d, [Behind, or hit from behind], REAREND. Clever clue! Today’s weather here in the Windy City (Port Elizabeth, not Chicago) featured persistent drizzling. I went past 4 accidents in my 22km drive to work today, including a t-bone and one car that ended up on its roof. Respect the weather conditions when you’re driving!
- 2d, [Christian chant], ALLELUIA – as in this song
- 6d, [More slippery], OILIER. You had EELIER first didn’t you? I did.
- 11d, [Athletic brand founded by Adolf Dassler], ADIDAS – that’s ADI DASsler if you didn’t catch! His brother Rudolph founded Puma.
- 25d, [“Eso Beso” singer], ANKA. Looking at his Wikipedia discography, it seems that chartwise this was his 21st biggest single… I have a pretty good, if spotty (on account of it being 2nd hand), knowledge of 50’s and 60’s music, but had never heard of the song BC (before crosswords). A contemporary single of similar stature wouldn’t get into crosswords. Anyway, here’s what (for me) is Anka’s signature song…
- 45d, [Sunglass Hut brand], RAYBAN feels retro despite still being extant!
- 49d, [Fireworks highlight], FINALE. Ugh. Hate fireworks. The recent display at our local Splash festival was so loud it could be heard 40km away… Seriously OTT!
A bit more awkw. short stuff than normal, but in general I had fun: 3.5 stars. Gareth
NYT: I think this puzzle can span the whole range of ease-difficulty based on some combination of age and name memory of the solver. I’m terrible at remembering names, but (luckily or unluckily) these names all rang a bell from when I was a kid and cared about the SPACE RACE. I admire these astronauts and their accomplishments. However, the puzzle would have been more fun if there had been fewer of them.
If I hadn’t seen “The Right Stuff” a few times, this one would have moved real slow for me.
“Alea iacta est.”
Yeah, I know. It still doesn’t make THEDIE a great answer. THEDIEISCAST is solid, and ALEAIACTAEST is tough Saturday grade.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m okay with partials that don’t require fill-in clues. E.g., I would prefer THEDIE to DIEIS.
As I noted over at Rex’s place, this is the puzzle we would expect when there is no other anniversary around – except for today being the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare, but what does he have to do with words and language?
Yeah, Amy, you dip****, there’s this famous Latin saying so … there.
Also: Julius who?
Yours in fake erudition,
Care to expand on your earlier comment with the same (or possibly merely similar) sign-off?
Apparently, Rex didn’t rant enough on his own blog about how bad this puzzle is but felt the need to come here to vent.
Rex asked, “What’s the point?” and Amy replied, “It’s a Will Shortz hidden contest, and the first two pieces of data that figure into the meta are 102 and 55 14/365ths.”
Being the old fart I am, and the only true curmudgeon on Wordplay, I agree with both of you (with the one exception that these seven astronauts are famous in their own right stuff). The puzzle was a tad tedious as well as curiously timed. As for the fill, it’s just fill.
In their own respective ways I found both Rex’s and Amy’s critiques funny. Not sure if one was meant to be, however. But I’m not sure it wasn’t either.
I thought that ALEA IACTA EST meant “the die is cast,” but I was not sure, so I googled it and the Wikipedia site attributes the quote to Suetonius.
Suetonius brings back fond memories of my days as a history major. Tacitus is boring beyond tears, but Suetonius was the National Enquirer version of ancient history. I am now trying to figure out if there is something pornographic about the reference.
I’ll have to check him out. Last year, as part of my ongoing attempt to educate myself, I read a bunch of ancient history classics–Gibbon, Herodotus, Tacitus, et al. Tacitus was often boring, but occasionally he would tell a good story. I think it’s part of the form (annals) because of how he had to record everything of interest for the year. It’s too bad his record of the Caligula years didn’t survive–that would have been spicier.
While I didn’t particularly enjoy solving today’s NYT, I greatly appreciated it for its feat of cramming 7 odd names into the grid.
Two brilliantly puny clues were “Caller from a cell phone?” (CON), and “School desk drawer?” (DOODLER)
Odd–in my version of the puzzle, these clues were the same size as the others….
Between this and the “Caeser” reference, looks like the misspelling police are out in force today! :)