Wednesday, July 23, 2014

AV Club 4:44 (Amy) 
NYT 3:20 (Amy) 
LAT 3:27 (Gareth) 
CS 5:55 (Ade) 

Howard Barkin’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 7 23 14, no. 0723

NY Times crossword solution, 7 23 14, no. 0723

There are a ton of genuine sweethearts in the crossword community, in the ACPT crowd. None is nicer than the unreasonably humble Howard Barkin. Have you noticed how even when he hates a puzzle or couldn’t finish it, he is still nice about it in his blog comments? He’s a peach. Not the kind of peach that gets recalled for Listeria contamination, either.)

Howard’s first puzzle was an LA Times puzzle last year. This is his first in the Gray Lady. The theme is phrases that start with words that can precede “check” in the form of “___ check” … and that end with words that can also precede “check.”

  • 18a. [*Movie stand-in], BODY DOUBLE. Body check in hockey, double-check to make sure.
  • 29a. [*Crowd noise, for example], BACKGROUND SOUND. “Background noise” feels more in the language to me. Background check to screen out criminals, sound check before a concert.
  • 46a. [*One’s physical or emotional burdens], PERSONAL BAGGAGE. Personal check in your checkbook, baggage check at the airport.
  • 59a. [Complete freedom … and a hint to each half of the answer to each starred clue], BLANK CHECK. Or “___ check”!

I’ll be honest. Until two minutes ago, having not really read the full revealer clue (what? it’s long!), I thought the theme involved just the first half of 18a, 29a, and 46a, and not both words. So I was underwhelmed, but the theme is better than I was giving it credit for.

Seven things:

  • 1a. [Truffle-seeking beast], BOAR. This very evening, a dinnermate had truffle oil and asked what, exactly, a truffle might be. She was delighted when I told her it was a fungus ball that pigs root up from underground. She Googled up a bunch of photos of pigs and dogs hunting truffles. Personally, I find truffles (or at least truffle oil) to smell like a headache.
  • 20a. [Toddler’s banishment to a corner, say], TIMEOUT. Howard, does your toddler get sent to the corner?
  • 52a. [Love-letter letters], SWAK. Short for “sealed with a kiss.” Cute.
  • 65a. [Anthony’s longtime partner on satellite radio], OPIE. Anthony Cumia got fired for a racist barrage of remarks on Twitter this month.
  • 4d. [Tries for again, as an office], RESEEKS. Blech. Not much of a word, is it?
  • 32d. [Walk with an attitude], SWAGGER. It’s also a noun in contemporary slang that has nothing to do with one’s gait.
  • 58d. [Solution to the classic riddle “What force or strength cannot get through, / I, with gentle touch, can do”], A KEY. I needed the crossings to solve the riddle.

The theme could play on a Monday or Tuesday, but there’s a good bit of more difficult fill that a newbie might balk at. ARTE, ALTA, REOS, ASPS, LAO, AMB, and the AGA KHAN? Yeah. ASKANCE, SWAGGER, and blood that will RUN COLD liven things up, though.

3.75 stars from me.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Ben Tausig’s American Values Club crossword, “Lost Remains”

AV Club crossword solution, 7 23 14 "Lost Remains"

AV Club crossword solution, 7 23 14 “Lost Remains”

The remains are the rest of whatever, and the rest is history, and so it is that the letter sequence REST has been deleted from various phrases to form goofy new ones:

  • 17a. [News item heading in the local communist paper?], A RED DEVELOPMENT. Arrested development, Arrested Development, or Arrested Development.
  • 23a. [DOJ arm that busts illicit Halloween candy cartels?], MOMMY D.E.A. Mommy dearest … which must be a generic sort of endearment, as the classic TV movie is Mommie Dearest. A demerit.
  • 38a. [It’s 40-Across, in a saying and in this puzzle], THE REST.
  • 40a. [See 38-Across], HISTORY. The “REST” is history.
  • 51a. [God’s advice to Adam about how to be fruitful and multiply?], MOUNT EVE. Mount Everest. Ha! Worth the price of admission (assuming Eve’s enthusiastic consent).
  • 60a. [Megaphone and soapbox, e.g.?], ORATION HARDWARE. Restoration Hardware.

Moderately amusing theme.  (Which, I remind you, means it’s funnier than a large majority of themes that may be clever or interesting but aren’t funny.)

Five more things:

  • 1a. [Some are assless], CHAPS. I am not sure this clue is accurate. Are there, in fact, assful chaps? At least one dictionary says chaps are, by definition, lacking a seat. Perhaps some tender-buttocked cowboy out there has obtained assful chaps to cut down on bum chafing. I can’t prove that hasn’t happened.
  • 22a. [Long, thick locks], DREADS. I was picturing long, thick, flowing locks and drawing a blank here. These are the nonflowing version.
  • 33a. [Iraq, many regime changes ago], SUMER. Many, many.
  • 37a. [Canadian rapper not named for river herring], SHAD. Ha! Haven’t heard of the rapper but the clue was helpful. Also didn’t know PRAS, 19d. [Fugees rapper], and needed all the crossings.
  • 56d. [Wets, in British slang], SOGS. Huh? As a verb? In what context? Oxford Dictionaries isn’t shedding any light.

Top fill: RIM SHOT, FREAK SHOW, IPOD MINI, METAL BAND, SUBPOP, and SRSLY (69a. [4 realz]). Bottom fill: LEHI, LEO I, can’t-we-forget-her-now MIERS. Lots of zippy clues, as we expect from Ben.

Four stars.

Steve Blais’ Los Angeles Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times 140723

LA Times

I always admire “members of set x” type themes. They strike me as very creative puzzle themes. This one is a list of characters known for their SMILEYFACES. MONALISA is historical, the others fictional, but that isn’t a demerit in my book. The others are the CHESHIRECAT, ALFREDENEUMAN and THEJOKER, all interesting answers in their own right and also making for a nice varied set! The puzzle grid has a somewhat constricted feel to it, with fairly well-divided small sections. The plus side of this is that it allowed Steve to seed each section with a few choice entries: BUSHWA, MAKESTRACKS, short but fun to say ANKH (will it ever be clued as ___-Morpork?), CROPTOP, THELEFT, PHISH (clued as the verb not the band) being my faves. Other remarks: Both BUSHWA and ANALOGOUSTO looked liked they were going to be ruder when I started unravelling them! SODA/COLA are placed in the corner with matching clues. ACID/ELCID in the same areas looks odd! Top-notch puzzle: 4.5 Stars

Bruce Venzke’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Holy Crime Fighting”—Ade’s write-up  

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 07.23.14: "Holy Crime Fighting"

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword solution, 07.23.14: “Holy Crime Fighting”

Hello there everybody! How’s the descent down the hump and towards the end of the week going? I’m doing well, although getting super nervous, as I’m going to be a guest speaker, through Skype, in my old college professor’s graduate school journalism class that he’s teaching this summer. What in the world are those bright students going to learn from me?!?!?! Ok, back to crossword puzzle talk!  Can’t stay too long to talk about it, but made up for it with a pretty insightful “sports…smarter” moment at the end of this blog.

Today, if you did not know it, is Batman Day, the 75th anniversary of the debut of one of our favorite fictional crime stoppers. And with this, our man Bruce Venzke, appropriately, authored a puzzle that’s all about The Dark Knight.

  • BRUCE WAYNE: (1A, 68A: [With 68-Across, secret identity of a fictional crime fighter])
  • GOTHAM CITY: (21A: [Fictional metropolis where 26-Across fought various villains])
  • BATMAN AND ROBIN: (26A: [Crime fighters dubbed the Dynamic Duo])
  • CAPED CRUSADERS: (45A: [Descriptive nickname for 26-Across])
  • THE BATCAVE: (50A: [Secret subterranean base of operations for 26-Across])
  • ADAM WEST: (10A, 66A: [With 66-Across, actor who played 1-/68-Across on television and film])To the younger generation, he’s more memorable for being the Mayor of Quahog on the animated series Family Guy. He’s awesome in either role.

Yesterday’s puzzle was the fastest I had ever done a CS puzzle…at least that was the case until today! Yes, the theme (and the grid overall) was a softball altogether, but still fun to solve and gratifying that I broke the eight, seven and six-minute mark in a puzzle! Sadly, I did not ever watch and/or listen to an episode of Father Knows Best, but did see Robert Young in reruns of Marcus Welby M.D., and in both of those roles, he definitely KNEW BEST what to do in certain situations (38D: [What a TV father played by Robert Young did in a ’50s sitcom]). Slick cluing with the past tense take of the show’s present tense styling. Think this was the first time I’ve come across NITER in a crossword grid (28D: Fertilizer component]), and same might be said for BARER (31D: [With fewer furnishings]).

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: KROC (34A: [Ray or Joan of philanthropy])– Many people know Ray Kroc as the man who turned McDonald’s into the empire that it is today. What many people don’t know is that Ray Kroc owned the San Diego Padres from 1974 until his death in January of 1984. He bought the team when all signs prior pointed to the team moving to Washington D.C. before his intervention. His passing at the beginning of the calendar year of 1984 turned out to be a source of motivation for the San Diego Padres baseball team, as the perennial losers made a run that took them all the way to the 1984 World Series, where they lost to the Detroit Tigers. All during that 1984 season, the Padres sported uniforms with Ray’s initials on the left sleeve (RAK). Here are pictures of star players Steve Garvey and Tony Gwynn from that season, and notice the tribute on the sleeve.



Thank you for your time, and I’ll see you tomorrow!!

Take care!


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20 Responses to Wednesday, July 23, 2014

  1. Bencoe says:

    Truffle oil smells like a headache because it isn’t made with real truffles, which are too expensive, but various aromatic perfumes, essentially. You can tell a good chef from a poseur because good chefs would never use truffle oil. It’s like cooking sherry as opposed to real sherry.
    Nice puzzle, Howard!

  2. Howard B says:

    Thanks for the writeup. In brief, before I lose consciousness for the night: Some bonus notes:
    – I really did not like RESEEKS in there, nor DCIV. They remained stuck in there out of necessity and perhaps lack of experience to find a better alternative. RE-words and Roman numerals are a bit of a peeve of mine, and they are in the puzzle anyway.
    – As far as OPIE, this puzzle was submitted and accepted in 2012. Darn.
    – Much thanks to Mr. Shortz for his guidance here, and some apparent heavy lifting on the clue editing; I loved his KEY clue. I have much work to do on the cluing side of things.
    – Re: TIMEOUT: No, we don’t banish to the corner. But timeouts can be effective in certain circumstances. For example, I’ve given myself one for leaving RESEEKS in there.

    If you all out there can forget your stress and worries for a moment or three during the puzzle, I’ve done my job. Enjoy!

    • Bencoe says:

      RESEEKS was tough for me to get, I have to admit. Even with RESE I wanted RESEATS for some reason.
      I liked RUN COLD and A KEY as clued. ASKANCE is my favorite word in the grid.
      My favorite of the theme answers was PERSONAL BAGGAGE, but I’m guessing the hockey-related BODY check was the starting point?

    • Evad says:

      You succeeded Howard, thanks for the diversion!

    • Phoebe says:

      You’ve done your job! Great NYT debut.

    • janie says:

      woo-hoo! congrats, howard, on this terrific times debut! me, i love this kind of double-duty theme fill. then, when it’s so lively and ya get two grid-spanners in the mix — well — it’s all gravy!

      more will always be welcome!


  3. Huda says:

    Howard B– If this isn’t nice!
    Taken from Vonnegut:
    “And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
    Congratulations. It is a very cool landmark for you, I imagine, and a fun solve for me, where the theme remained mysterious till the very end.
    PERSONAL CHECKS seem to be going the way of the dodo bird. I still remember being excited when I got my first check book after moving to the US. Before that, it was cash all the way for me. Pretty amazing to contemplate.

  4. David L says:

    This was a nice puzzle, but I don’t care for the clue “superprecise, as some clocks” for ATOMIC. It’s true that atomic clocks are superprecise, but atomic and superprecise are by no stretch of the imagination synonymous.

  5. Gareth says:

    That’s a perfect revealing answer! The short fill like DCIV (that Howard already mentioned) and TOSEA/ANS/LAO bugged me a bit, but I think in the former case at least a complete redesign was going to be necessary!

  6. sbmanion says:

    Howard, Congratulations. I am still smiling from my one and only NYT and that was almost eight years ago (2779 days ago to be exact, not that I think about it more than twice a day).

    I thought BLANK CHECK made an excellent puzzle superb.


  7. Howard B says:

    Thanks all. I give Mr. Shortz credit to much of the cluing here (I have to work on that part of the process).
    I can’t quite recall now which of mine made it through the process in some form, until I compare versions. So I won’t comment specifically on any clues.

    Whenever I get around to creating another of these, I’m really going to strive for as much cleaner fill as possible. The lower-left perhaps might be a little tweakable, but for my experience, not much else without tearing this apart.
    For what it’s worth, many parts of this puzzle were redone several times in the process for reasons ranging from removal of one bad fill word, to the replacement of one shaky theme answer with another.
    I strongly believe in fun, clean fill – which is why the outliers in this one still bug me a little bit.

  8. Pauer says:

    Well done, Howard. Congrats!

  9. Brucenm says:

    I’ve been AWOL for a while, but congrats Howard. Very nice, gentle puzzle. And, what Amy (and many others) have said.

    I also initially missed the double complexity of the theme.

    • Howard B says:

      TIME OUT was not part of the theme. the TIME covergence with CHECK is a coincendence, it seems. There is no symmetrical equivalent to that answer (DARKENS).
      You know, until now I had not even considered that issue.
      At least the * notation and length of theme answers pretty clearly mark the theme.

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