Friday, December 19, 2014

NYT 4:37 (Amy) 
LAT 7:03 (Gareth) 
CS 8:57 (Ade) 
CHE 5:37 (pannonica) 
WSJ (Friday) untimed (pannonica) 

Brad Wilber and Doug Peterson’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 12 19 14, no. 1219

NY Times crossword solution, 12 19 14, no. 1219

Yay! It’s a Brohug puzzle! That’s our portmanteau for Brad and Doug’s joint byline. They use “Lars G. Doubleday”—Bradley/Douglas anagrammed—for their Newsday “Saturday Stumper” ventures. It is thus amusing to see LARS in this grid (38d. [Never-seen neighbor on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”]).

Brohug crosswords are marked by colorful fill and smooth cluing. The people who cower at the sight of Brad’s solo byline, they tend to do better with Doug’s puzzles. Maybe because Brad tends a little more highbrow, and Doug’s more pop culture? Not that either guy’s puzzles reflect that much. The best stuff:

  • 4a. [Novel subtitled “The Parish Boy’s Progress”], OLIVER TWIST.
  • 16a. [Underground waves?], PIRATE RADIO.
  • 23a. [Tests that accommodate claustrophobes], OPEN MRIS.
  • 36a. [Major media event of ’95], O.J. TRIAL. You might say “Hey, that was almost 20 years ago—move on.” But did you hear the recent news about Cuba? Yes, that’s right: Cuba Gooding, Jr. will play O.J. in Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story miniseries anthology. But that’s not the only Cuba news! Gooding is also partnering with NephCure to raise awareness and money for my very own kidney disease.
  • 42a. [“Scimitar-horned” creature], ORYX. When you put it in quotes like that, it almost looks dirty.
  • 56a. [Fictional school bully with henchmen named Crabbe and Goyle], DRACO MALFOY.
  • 27d. [Cereal that reverted to spherical shapes in 2007], TRIX. For a while, I think there were globs shaped like bunches of grapes.
  • 28d. [Frontman’s assignment], LEAD VOCALS.
  • 37d. [Pack animal?], JOE CAMEL. Sure, you might quibble that the cigarette mascot was discontinued back in 1997—but basically every American born between 1975 and 1992 knew Joe Camel as well as they recognized Mickey Mouse when they were kids. Indelible cartoony campaign to lure young smokers to the brand. Evil!
This is so meta.

This is so meta.

Not so familiar with: 41d. [Black-and-white engraving], LINE CUT. You can read about line engraving here. I … may well have made prints from line cuts in a college art class.

The fourth row of this puzzle looks uninspired, though. NOLO ENE TULLES? Those are like the intermission in the comedy show you’re attending. I also do not care for IRANI (6d. [Almost any character in Jon Stewart’s “Rosewater”]) as fill, as outside of crosswords, it seems like hardly anyone is using that word to label Iranians or Persians.

Four stars from me.

Elizabeth C. Gorski’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Freeze Frame” — pannonica’s write-up

WSJ • 12/19/14 • "Freeze Frame" • Fri • Gorski • solution

WSJ • 12/19/14 • “Freeze Frame” • Fri • Gorski • solution

Caveat: I’ve been trying out a new (for me) Across Lite alternative that has a lot of configurable options. When I finished filling in this grid it informed me that there were some incorrect squares. Manually reviewed the grid, couldn’t find anything, so I invoked the check solution feature, only to see the rebus squares receive giant red Xs (and all the correct squares a little green dot in the corner).

So I erased and re-filled the grid but didn’t run the check—I hope there aren’t any new typos.  (edit: Sure enough, there should be a C at  the intersection of SPARCER and ORDNANCE in the lower right corner.) Also, please feel free to comment on the legibility of the solution grid reproduced here. It may be difficult to read the letters, especially if your browser doesn’t have a nifty ‘hover zoom’ feature/plug-in.

Back to the crossword per se. The revealer, in two parts, is 69a [With 71-Across, this puzzle’s theme] ARCTIC | CIRCLE. Appropriately, ICE is packed into various cubes in the grid. In some cases ICE is the actual sense in the fill, other times it’s contained within a larger word. I’ve added circles to the appropriate places for ease of viewing. But wait! you might ask, why doesn’t the puzzle already have those locations circled? The reason is that the real ‘arctic circle’ is formed by those locations themselves: 8 points symmetrically placed about the center.

  • 24a/10d. [Holiday deserts] SPICE CAKES / [Ralph’s wife] ALICE.
  • 31a/4d. [Sites of some holiday parties] OFFICES / [Christmas mass, e.g.] SERVICE.
  • 32a/15d. [Checkbox choice on Santa’s list] NAUGHTY OR NICE / [Imperative on many a Christmas card] REJOICE.
  • 68a/62d. [Cuts into cubes] DICES / [Alternative to a baked potato] RICE PILAF.
  • 73a/42d. [Arm muscle, informally] BICEP / [Men, in a caroling choir] LOW VOICES.
  • 106a/106d. [Cool art at a winter carnival] ICE SCULPTURES / [Rockefeller Center attraction] ICE RINK.
  • 108a/109d. [Lorry driver’s need] LICENCE / [Cold mountain?] ICEBERG.
  • 118a/120d. [Like St. Nicholas] BENEFICENT / [Strand at a ski resort] ICE IN.

As you can see, there’s a mix of Christmassy theme answers, generic theme answers whose clues are given a Christmassy spin, and some that have no connection to things Christmassy. The technique of Christmassy clue contortions is extended to the ballast fill, which helps give the crossword a cohesive character. I won’t list them all here, but they’re there for the finding. One example of three: 117a [Christmas visitors] MAGI, 20a [Wise men] SOLOMONS, 33d [Wise man] GENIUS. Another pair: 25a [“Peppermint Twist” singer Dee] JOEY; [“Mittens” singer Carly __ Jepsen] RAE. Even crossword fave ADZE (78d) veers this-a-way, invoking a workshop, presumably Santa Claus’. Why not compare your subjective tallies in the comments? 


  • 61d [Fawn over] ADULATE, but I had IDOLIZE, which held things up for some time.
  • 37a [Released, as stock] UNPENNED. Context can be such persuasive priming. Knowing this was in the WSJ—and having recently filled in 23a [The Dow, for one] AVERAGE—it never occurred to me that the ‘stock’ here could be anything other a financial entity.
  • 61a [Region-based] AREAL. Hard to say if this term usually relegated to scientific studies is better than the partial A REAL. I suppose, all things considered—or at least as many as I’m aware of—I come down on the side of the single word.
  • Tough crossing for me: 1d [1988 Angelina Jolie HBO movie] GIA crossing 19a [“To him be glory both now and for ever” book] II PETER.
  • 12d [Sweet Hungarian wines] TOKAYS. Anyone else write in TOKAJI first? Not all varieties of Tokaji are sweet, but Tokaji Aszú is, and it’s the most well-known around the world. This is the variety that English speakers call TOKAY(S). The other famous Hungarian wine is a red blend called “bull’s blood,” Egri Bikavér.

Fun, timely puzzle. Mostly good stuff, relatively few lumps of coal, missing batteries, or extra screws left over.

Finn Vigeland’s Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, “O’er Tannenbaum” — pannonica’s write-up

CHE • 12/19/14 • "O'er Tannenbaum" • Vigeland • solution

CHE • 12/19/14 • “O’er Tannenbaum” • Vigeland • solution

Instead of the neat box of a typical, 15×15 grid, this offering presents us with a 13×17 configuration. The total difference in squares is minimal: 221 rather than 225.

Anyway, the vertical orientation is apt because the theme is about trees. Tannenbaum is German for ‘fir tree’, but we tend to think of it as a Christmas tree, whatever species it might happen to be. There are two TRIADS (37a) of circled letters. The three in the upper half of the grid spell out decorations typically seen on the top of a Christmas tree, while those in the lower part are types of trees. 

Each group is comprised of words of three, four, and five letters but interestingly they aren’t arranged to match the 180º rotational symmetry of the grid. The 5 is above the 5, the 4 above the 4 (in the center column), and the 3 above the 3.

Lets unwrap:

  • ANGEL appears in 3d TANGELO [Kumquat cousin].
  • BOW is in 6d ELBOW PAD [Skateboarder’s accessory].
  • STAR in 9d COSTA RICA [Top-ranked country in the Happy Planet Index]. I thoguht that was Bhutan.
  • CEDAR buttresses 36d [26-page children’s book, perhaps] ABECEDARY. Such a nifty word. Seems to cheekily follow the tacking-on example of ‘alphabet’ (alpha/beta : a/b/c/d). Perhaps a lexicographer can say whether the similarly-formed word is an intentional homage.
  • FIR upholds 39d LAW FIRMS [Scenes of much practicing].
  • PINE is found in the construction of 42d SPINETS [Grand children?].

Tidy little theme. However, I take issue with CEDAR. I’ve never heard of that type of tree being used for this holiday. Surely the big three are FIR, PINE, and SPRUCE. True, SPRUCE is six letters in length and disrupts that lesser aspect of the theme. More critically though, good luck finding a word or phrase containing SPRUCE that is not also about the tree. There’s the rub. As much as I want to like this puzzle, this seems a fatal flaw. Were I constructing it, I’d have thrown it on the bonfire.

  • 35d [HBO series that ended in 2014] TRUE BLOOD. But the trueness lives on; the channel’s TRUE DETECTIVE series began this year.
  • 38a [Spherical] ORBED, not OVOID as I first had it. Made for some slow going for a time.
  • 1d [Only child of Mary, Queen of Scots] JAMES VI. But the same fellow was Britain’s JAMES I when he ascended to that throne.
  • Favorite clue: 57a [Phrase used to advertise some mixers] FREE BEER.

Interesting crossword, but sadly disappointing because the theme doesn’t work completely.

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

LA Times 141219

LA Times 141219

Congrats John Lampkin! I’ve had ARGON in my stuck puzzle “notebook” (it’s a text file, but you get the drift) for more than a year. What it says: ARGON (AW(AR)E, BE(AR)D, BO(AR)D, C(AR)RY), but I never got a set of answers I liked. Variations of two of my seeds are found in John’s puzzle. BARROOM to BROOM is a stroke of genius and kicks the puzzle up a notch! In full we have:

For 51 Across – PUPAE This Armyworm caterpillar (seen head downwards) had been parasitized by a very tiny braconid wasp. She had stung the caterpillar laying dozens of eggs. The eggs  hatched and the wasp larvae ate the caterpillar from the inside out avoiding all vital organs toward the head end. The wasp larvae then crawled out through the caterpillar’s skin and formed the white fuzzy pupae sticking out of the caterpillar.  The caterpillar was still alive when I shot the pic. My Florida naturalist friend Karen Finch, bless her,  took everything home in a jar and hatched out the wasps to confirm our ID. Since parasitized larvae like this Armyworm nearly always die, braconid wasps can be an eco-friendly control of garden pests like Tomato Hornworms.

For 51 Across – PUPAE
This Armyworm caterpillar (seen head downwards) had been parasitized by a very tiny braconid wasp. She had stung the caterpillar laying dozens of eggs. The eggs hatched and the wasp larvae ate the caterpillar from the inside out avoiding all vital organs toward the head end. The wasp larvae then crawled out through the caterpillar’s skin and formed the white fuzzy pupae sticking out of the caterpillar. The caterpillar was still alive when I shot the pic. My Florida naturalist friend Karen Finch, bless her, took everything home in a jar and hatched out the wasps to confirm our ID. Since parasitized larvae like this Armyworm nearly always die, braconid wasps can be an eco-friendly control of garden pests like Tomato Hornworms.

  • [Easy mark with a sob story?], C(AR)RIERPIGEON
  • [Shirt that hardly covers anything?], MINIMALIST(AR)T. A bit cheap reducing a word to just a letter, but there really aren’t a lot of options for this theme!
  • [Ruckus at a coven?], B(AR)ROOMBRAWL. As alluded to, very clever change and the new answer provides a strong image.
  • [Very small pharmaceutical mail order?], PILL(AR)TOPOST.


  • [What Rudolph used to be called], NAMES. Poor WILMA!
  • [Pilot], AVIATE. v.
  • [Baseball letters], RHE. Nope, that clue may as well just read [letters] to me.
  • [Part of a team observation], NOI. There’s no “we” in team either…
  • [Digital filer’s target], TOENAIL. That’s a clue of the month nominee right there!
  • [Bundle up on the farm], SHEAVE. v.
  • [The first Mrs. Arrowsmith], LEORA. Who? Also, who’s Mr. Arrowsmith?
  • [Kind of wrench], ALLEN. Here it’s an allen key. Generally though wrench becomes spanner in Commonwealth english. One variant in South African English is that a pipe wrench is a bobbejaan (Dutch / Afrikaans for baboon).
  • [International commerce components], EXPORTS. I clung to ESCORTS here for far too long…

4.25 Stars



Alan Arbesfeld’s CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, “Perfect Squares”—Ade’s write-up  

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, 12.19.14: "Perfect Squares"

CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, 12.19.14: “Perfect Squares”

Happy Friday, everybody! I hope you are well and that you’ll start your holiday season in some sort of style! Today’s crossword puzzle, brought to us by Mr. Alan Arbesfeld, includes phrases or nouns which all include numbers that also happen to be square numbers in mathematics. A nice crossword by someone who I am sure is far from a square…but maybe a good square dancer!

  • SIXTEEN TONS: (17A: [1955 #1 hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford])
  • FOUR CORNERS: (24A: [Western tourist attraction]) – How many of you have gone there and stood in four states at once? Also, the entry could be clued as, “Basketball offense popularized by Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina” for those that are sports heads.
  • WHEN I’M SIXTY FOUR: (37A: [Song from the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” album])
  • ONE MORE TIME: (48A: [Again]) – Could also be clued as, “Catchy 2001 dance song by Daft Punk.” If you don’t know the song by reading this, you definitely will know it once you look it up and hear it.
  • ON CLOUD NINE: (58A: [Ecstatic])

What a clue for, and what an entry SLEAZEBALL is in a grid (29D: [Base man?]). The only thing that could top that is an appearance of sleaze-bucket! With OPERA (48D: [Verdi offering]) and NOVEL (49D: [“Catch-22,” e.g.]) right next to each other, it made me wonder if I would choose reading a good novel or go out (or stay in) and take in a good opera. Probably would go with the former, but I need some suggestions for some good operas that I can attend and enjoy. The clue to ASHE no longer has its trickiness aspect to it now that another crossword regular, Shea (Stadium) has been razed (28D: [Queens Stadium]). With one of the entries, I had —–MO, and, given the clue that was presented, I put in Palermo instead of SAN REMO to start (30D: [Resort on the Italian Riviera]). Clearly, I need to brush up on my Italian geography. Also, I need to play CAREERS one of the these days, because I had never heard of it and/or seen it played before today (46A: [Board game with Opportunity Knocks spaces]).

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: SENECA (1A: [Largest of New York’s Finger Lakes]) – When he was in college at Iowa State University, I thought that SENECA Wallace would be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL once he entered the league, because of his accuracy and athleticism. Wallace was drafted in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks, but never really caught on as a full-time starter, whether with the Seahawks or any of the other teams he played for in his nine-year NFL career (Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers). Despite that, he currently (assuming he never plays again) has 31 career touchdowns compared to 19 career interceptions.

Have a great weekend, everyone, and I’ll talk with you tomorrow!

Take care!


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16 Responses to Friday, December 19, 2014

  1. sbmanion says:

    Seattle Slew was the only horse to win the triple crown when he was undefeated. The next year, Affirmed beat Alydar in three memorable races and it has now been 36 years without a triple crown champion.

    I thought the clue PACK ANIMAL was brilliant.

    Fun puzzle. West was tough for me; East was average difficulty.

    Too bad “truthiness” was not a clue or answer.


  2. ArtLvr says:

    Lots of clever clues in the NYT: you almost expect a “walk the dog” to need a yoyo answer!

    • sps says:

      That’s definitely where my brain was at when I created YOYOAREA for that clue and added it to the grid…Well, shouldn’t there be a Yoyo Area somewhere? (other than Congress)

  3. Avg Solvr says:

    Enjoyed the LAT.

  4. Finn says:

    Pannonica, thanks for the review! I actually did some research on Christmas trees before starting this theme, and a cedar tree is one of the top five types of Christmas trees according to the National Christmas Tree Association. It is apparently very pop(u)lar in the U.S. South:

  5. Mike the Wino says:

    WSJ 122d: Just wanted to point out that Nipper was (is?) actually the dog in the gramophone logo for RCA, among other brands. That turns “sparcer” into “scarcer”…

    Fun puzzle!

    • Mike the Wino says:

      I mean “sparser” into “scarcer”…

    • pannonica says:

      Yes, that’s what I had in my original grid. Didn’t realize I had two new typos in the refilled grid (did it via acrosses)! Corrected SPARSER half-blindly. >smacks head<

  6. Gareth says:

    Hardest NYT puzzle of the year!! Easily. Top-right and bottom-left virtually impenetrable! Everything fair and very satisfying once it emerged, but wow! Those clues!

    • Avg Solvr says:

      What do you mean by “fair?” The SW is a virtual Jeopardy! segment, so fair as in every factual question has a factual answer?

      • Bencoe says:

        Jeopardy! is fair.
        I think.
        I have done the live audition with the producers twice and done very well, yet not gotten picked.
        I think if I was thinner and prettier, I may have been picked. Or maybe this is paranoia.

  7. Elise says:

    Ade: If you’re looking for an entertaining opera, may I suggest a video viewing of “Carmen” with Placido Domingo followed by “Carmen Jones” starring Dorothy Dandridge. You’ll be hooked and on to “Madame Butterfly,” “La Boheme,” and others.
    P.S. I missed seeing your review of Thursday’s WaPo puzzle. Not in the line- up.

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