Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fireball 4:58 (Amy) 
NYT 4:41 (Amy) 
LAT 7:27 (Gareth, paper) 
CS tk (Ade) 
BEQ 7:28 (Ben) 

Todd Gross’s New York Times crossword

NY Times crossword solution, 3 19 15, no 0319

NY Times crossword solution, 3 19 15, no 0319

Neat theme, though it posits a truly bonkers encyclopedia set that appears to have at least three separate N volumes. There are four familiar phrases that double as an alphabetical range of words starting with the same letter, and these four thin volumes are Down answers, oriented like encyclopedias on a shelf, and placed in the grid in alphabetical order from left to right. The shelf height goes a little haywire thanks to rotational crossword symmetry.

  • 4d. [Encyclopedia volume on education reform?], BACK TO BASICS.
  • 17d. [Encyclopedia volume on tailoring?], MADE TO MEASURE.
  • 7d. [Encyclopedia volume on poverty?], NEXT TO NOTHING.
  • 21d. [Encyclopedia volume on wealth accumulation?], RAGS TO RICHES. This is the only one where the base phrase really does connote a range, a directional movement from one to the other (you could say “from rags to riches” but not “from made to measure”).

Some of the fill delighted me:

  • 32d. [1979 #1 hit whose title is sung with a stutter], MY SHARONA, by the Knack. I got this off just the M.
  • 30a. [“Alice in Wonderland” director, 2010], TIM BURTON.
  • 10d. [It would be “a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord,” to Isaiah], JERUSALEM. Not a bible quote I knew, but a great long entry.
  • Did I mention “My Sharona”? Pretty much a one-hit wonder but an indelible part of my adolescence. Husband points out that the Who’s “My Generation” does a similar stutter on the “my.” Any other songs in that group?

Did not know:

  • 1a. [Actor David of “Dark Shadows”], SELBY. Who?? There were six other actors who appeared in more episodes than Selby, and he’s scarcely a big enough name to merit appearance in crosswords. And! Parked right at 1-Across? No, no, no. Unwelcome.
  • 41a. [Indian chief called King Philip], METACOMET. Didn’t know it but perhaps should have. Late 1600s, fought Puritan expansion. His brother’s name was Wamsutta, which you may recognize from the bed linens section at a department store.

I would review more of the puzzle, but I’m too sleepy so I’ll sign off by saying I found this theme CLEVER (8-Down) and give it 4 stars. Without SELBY crossing plural LEONS, I SAY/ I MET, and that lurking YMA, it’d be a bit higher.

Peter Gordon’s Fireball crossword, “Themeless 82”

Fireball crossword solution, 3 19 15 "Themeless 82"

Fireball crossword solution, 3 19 15 “Themeless 82”

Quick take: Love the SHUTTERFLY/FLUTTERSHY minitheme! Lovely. Lots of stuff I didn’t know (IRONSIDES, MARIA MARIA, TO AUTUMN, UP A STUMP) but still felt easier than most of Peter’s themelesses. I did manage to pin down MATERTERAL after having just the first three letters. Boo-yah!

WORDSMITH is a particularly nice inclusion here. And VANUATU, 42d. [Bislama is one of its official languages]? Never heard of the language and haven’t read any articles on the recent destructive cyclone/typhoon that hit Vanuatu, but I always appreciate learning bits like national language trivia.

Gotta run. 4.1 stars.

Brendan Emmett Quigley’s website crossword – “Stick Figureheads” — Ben’s Review

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 12.28.57 AM

How is it already the ACPT next week, you guys?  I am feeling nowhere near as prepared as I’d like to be, but I’m still excited – it’ll be my first time doing the tournament in Stanford, and it’s always nice to see my friends on the crossword side of the puzzling community.

Being a nerdy type who’s into webcomics definitely helped solve this week’s BEQ Thursday puzzle – the first syllables of the theme clues are a phonetic tribute to everyone’s favorite stick-figure comic about science, XKCD:

  • 18A, “By virtue of position” – EX OFFICIO
  • 29A, “Ring leader?” – KAY JEWELERS
  • 49A, “The surf in some surf and turf dishes” – SEA SCALLOPS
  • 60A, “‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ singer” – DEE SNIDER

Even if you’re not the webcomic type, I highly recommend the artist RANDALL MUNROE‘s (31D/5D) book What If, which answers all sorts of crazy hypothetical science questions with funny and informative answers.  But enough about that, back to the puzzle.

The rest of the grid is nice, but there’s oddly nothing that grabs me as being particularly noteworthy for fill –  a meme-friendly clue for MAD (46A, “U ____ BRO?”) is a nice twist on things, but overall this feels like good fill for a nice puzzle, with nothing that really sticks out. It’s a bit odd to say the least.  Much like 39A (“Rather underwhelming movie”), the main fill this week is a bit of a SNOOZER.

3/5 stars

Ed Sessa’s LA Times crossword – Gareth’s review

LA Times 150319

LA Times

Feeling ambivalent about this one. On the one hand, AYTHERESTHERUB is a great revealing answer, on the other hand, it boils down to just three external body parts, used in roughly non-body part contexts. On the other hand, Darren, all three are nice long answers and I particularly enjoyed the long 15’s: FOOTLONGHOTDOGS and BACKTOTHEFUTURE. The latter took longer than it should to get, for some reason “science fiction” didn’t help conjure up that movie initially! The third themer is NECKOFTHEWOODS.

Partly to accomodate the 14’s, this grid uses six areas of stacked 7’s – three on bottom, three on top, and then a constricted middle. Because of the size of some of these stacks, most of the 7’s are functional rather than fun – a lot of ER action (SCORERS, USURERS, ENABLER plus shorter crossers), but none of those are contrived. CALYPSO and ROMULUS add some Classical spice at least. Most of the big stacks have some crutches, but things didn’t get out of control either.

I looked through the clues for things I wanted to highlight and came up empty; make of that what you will.

3.25 Stars

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41 Responses to Thursday, March 19, 2015

  1. ArtLvr says:

    Yes, the NYT theme was clever! And some of the fill was tough. The only stutter song I know is K-K-K-Katy. Don’t remember ever having met METACOMET. Didn’t know the dreidels’ letters were SHINS, and the white sheet is only SNOW briefly — sooty mess soon enough! (My old lost newspapers are emerging as the piled drifts shrink.) I caught on to the ORIGAMI “paperwork” and notorious ENRON right away, though… Enjoyed the workout.

    • ArtLvr says:

      p.s. re the microbiome thread of yesterday: Bacteria programmed to spot tumors in the liver were shown off at the recent TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Vancouver. Tal Danino, an MIT researcher, described how he programmed the bacteria with genetic code. The system could be developed to identify other cancers, he said. So far this has only been tested on mice. Results will be published in Science Translational Medicine… The mice are fed pre-programmed probiotic bacteria – a similar type to that found in some yogurts. The bacteria produce enzymes when they encounter a tumor which will, in turn, change the color of urine. So far, the system has proved accurate at detecting liver cancer. “Liver cancer is hard to detect, and there really is a need for new technology to help spot it,” Mr Danino told the BBC ahead of his talk. Worldwide, liver was the second most lethal cancer in 2012, resulting in 745,000 deaths, according to WHO, the World Health Organization. He also said we have more bacteria inside us than there are stars in the galaxy!

      • huda says:

        ArtLvr, I had the same challenges with the puzzle. I’m terrible with names so it was frustrating for me.

        And yeah, the buried newspapers that have emerged are like an archeological dig of when so much snow fell that it covered them before we retrieved them.

        So cool about that microbiome paper… We’re a bunch of geeks.

        • ArtLvr says:

          Thanks, Huda — I love the idea of being able to program bacteria the way one programs a computer, but complete with color change identifier for an instant answer! Science fiction coming to life.

          • Lois says:

            Regarding shins, there are four possible letters on a dreidel, nuns, gimels, hays and shins (the esses at the ends of the words are English plurals). I don’t utterly hate having an edge, but I do believe it would be better advised to have some more conventional English clue for “shins.” Might as well save this type of clue for “gimel,” in case of need, or even “hays,” if an “s” is needed, as the plural won’t work for the usual English word “hay,” I don’t think.

            Merl Reagle was once criticized here for using the Hebrew acronym for the Bible, “Tanach” (Torah, Prophets and Scriptures), as an answer, because of its not being well known to the general public, but I liked that one because it was a real surprise to encounter.

          • pannonica says:

            Go-to on that would be Robert HAYS of “Airplane!” fame.

      • Lou says:

        Good article in the NYT (Some of my best friends are germs, May 2013 that you might find of interest in regard to the microbiome discussion.

        “And it appears increasingly likely that this “second genome,” as it is sometimes called, exerts an influence on our health as great and possibly even greater than the genes we inherit from our parents. But while your inherited genes are more or less fixed, it may be possible to reshape, even cultivate, your second genome.”

  2. lemonae714 says:

    A really fun puzzle from Todd Gross with a nicely put together theme.


  3. PJ Ward says:

    Neat NYT theme. Sussudio was my first thought for 32d even though I was pretty sure it was from the 80s. George Harrison gives a little “my” stutter on “My Sweet Lord.”

    • Brucenm says:

      As a stream of consciousness aside, “My Sweet Lord” was the subject of one of the most famous plagiarism lawsuits in American Legal History. Plaintiff, one Ronnie Mack alleged that George Harrison had wrongfully appropriated Mack’s song “He’s So Fine” written a couple decades earlier for a group called the Chiffons. The case was specifically assigned to Judge Owen, himself a credentialed song writer, with membership in various musical societies. Judge Owen gave an accurate and sophisticated analysis of the motifs, harmonic sequences and rhythms of the two songs, with special interest in a particular grace note occurring in both pieces.

      Judge Owen found unconscious, inadvertent copying. The matter of damages dragged on interminably, and I’m not sure how it came out. That issue was further complicated by the presence of one Allen Klein, Harrison’s new manager who was arguably trying to get his greedy mitts into the damage pie, and acting contrary to the interests of Harrison. [Disclaimer — I do not know for as a fact, and am not alleging it, merely repeating things I have read.] :-)

      • Avg Solvr says:

        I read somewhere that Lennon heard the song and told Harrison he’d get caught.

        • Avg Solvr says:

          I think what I read was from a Playboy interview with Lennon. From Wiki: “He must have known, you know. He’s smarter than that … He could have changed a couple of bars in that song and nobody could ever have touched him, but he just let it go and paid the price. Maybe he thought God would just sort of let him off.”

          • Bencoe says:

            From what I remember reading about the case, Harrison had to pay something like a half million in royalties. I also remember that Harrison claimed that he had forgotten about “He’s So Fine”, not having heard it in years, but acknowledged that it was still floating around his subconscious. Too apathetic to bother to look it up right now.

          • Gareth says:

            I do this with crossword themes! I “come up” with themes only to, after scouring databases, realise I was just remembering them!

  4. Rick says:

    “Any other songs in that group?”

    Bowie’s “Changes” (’71 though)

    • Avg Solvr says:

      Bad to the Bone – George Thorogood
      Bennie and the Jets – Elton John
      You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet – Bachman-Turner Overdrive
      Katmandu – Bob Seger
      Barbara Ann – Beach Boys

  5. Mark says:

    “Changes” – David Bowie, also a great stuttered title….

  6. CY Hollander says:

    Liked the NYT theme, but would have liked the execution better had all the entries been plausible encyclopedia volumes. I don’t have an issue with the multiple volumes per letter, but I’d like the components of the title to be things that could plausibly have encyclopedia articles written on them (so nouns, for a start). The only entry that works this way is RAGS TO RICHES. I̶’̶l̶l̶ ̶w̶a̶g̶e̶r̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶w̶a̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶p̶h̶r̶a̶s̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶i̶n̶s̶p̶i̶r̶e̶d̶ ̶t̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶m̶e̶.̶ edit: I’d have lost that wager.

    I hadn’t noticed the alphabetizing or realized the significance of the answers all reading down until Amy pointed it out. That raises this one a notch in my eyes.

  7. Papa John says:

    What am I missing? The theme struck me as rather blasé. Like Amy said, those are awfully thin volumes. I found that distracting, if not downright inane and not at all “clever” or “neat” and not that much “fun”. Three of them make more sense in that they start with a consonant followed by the letter A, rather the oddball one that has the first consonant followed with an E. That the themes are comprised of unaltered, familiar phrases is good, but it also made the solve a lot easier. I recognized three of the phrases from a few scant letters filled in, without having to read the clues for them. In fact, as I was scanning the puzzle after solving, I found many fills for which I had not read the clues. My only stumbling block was where 41A: “…King Philip” crossed 42D: “Bugs might be seen in one”. I was not aided by the French word for “Yesterday” at 45A and was unsure of King Philip’s Indian name. The rest of the puzzle went down more like a Tuesday difficulty.

    Amy, I was surprised you weren’t put off by “MY SHARONA” and the FITB, “Since I MET You, Baby”, since they’re both pop cultural references more than a decade old. Maybe you were too sleepy to let it get to you, this time.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      No idea what “Since I MET You, Baby” is, but the main problem there is the “I” dupe with I SAY. Also, you misunderstand me. Matt Gaffney is the one with the decade fixation (if all of the clues could have been seen in a puzzle 10+ years ago, stale clues). It’s the pop culture that predates me that I don’t like. “My Sharona” was a hit when I was in junior high and my husband’s band in college used to play the opening riff and then stop abruptly once the crowd got excited, saying “You didn’t really want to hear that song, did you?” Shaming the audience who actually sorta did want to hear it.

    • PJ Ward says:

      In the “neat” case what you’re missing is my memories. The puzzle stirred a path in my mind that was pretty dusty. As a child some 50+ years ago I read the encyclopedia for pleasure. I quickly realized that words in small caps were titles of other entries. I’d go from entry to entry and the next thing I knew three hours had passed and I was some distance from the original topic. That I found this fun probably explains why I enjoyed “Connections” by James Burke so much.

      And including Metacomet gave the puzzle a nice boost, as well.

      My observation is that all of us base our evaluations on a combination of objective and subjective criteria.

      • Papa John says:

        Re last paragraph: That’s what I’ve been saying all along.

        It’s one of the reasons I don’t favor rating the puzzles. If we had a list of criteria to judge by, it may make it less subjective but, let’s face it, the fun is totally not objective. Personally I find the “fun” in the puzzles’ ability to transcend my surroundings and give me a respite from the day’s drudgery or the latest right-wing idiocy. It’s meditative.

        • Bencoe says:

          It’s just a framework for some jokes, it’s not meant to be taken so literally.
          “So I finished reading the dictionary. Turns out the zebra did it.” –Steven Wright

        • Gareth says:

          I do this with crossword themes! I “come up” with themes only to, after scouring databases, realise I was just remembering them!

  8. Margaret says:

    So happy with the LAT theme when I got to the bottom; after the first three I thought it was just going to be a boring collection of body parts. The inclusion of the word “satisfied” in the reveal clue was very nice.

  9. Zulema says:

    How is AHEM a “word of pardon”?

  10. Evad says:

    Re: FB, the crossing between TRAPSETS and UPASTUMP was a flat-out guess for me, having never heard of either. Otherwise, a typical gnarly-but-solvable workout!

  11. Gareth says:

    I always think of the Knack as a two hit wonder, the other being this. I don’t know what the charts say, though.

    • Jeffrey K says:

      Agreed, Gareth. Good Girls Don’t was #1 in Canada, so that may explain why I remember it. It was also #11 on Billboard, so it qualifies as a second hit even to those down South (My south, not Gareth’s.)

  12. Elise says:

    David SELBY = Yes! As Quentin Collins the werewolf, he was easily as much a poster boy for Dark Shadows as Barnabas the vampire (Jonathan Frid). I had both on my bedroom wall. They were the original Jacob vs Edward of Twilight fame.

  13. Aaron says:

    “Madness” by Muse is a recent hit where the M is stuttered. Maybe songs with stuttered Ms should be a theme…

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