Sunday, May 10, 2015

NYT 11:43 (Amy) 
LAT 6:05 (Andy) 
Reagle 13:59 (Sam) 
Hex/Hook untimed (pannonica) 
CS 18:46 (Ade) 

Jacob Stulberg’s New York Times crossword, “Literary Circles”

NY Times crossword solution, 5 10 15 "Literary Circles"

NY Times crossword solution, 5 10 15 “Literary Circles”

I’m quite fond of a couple WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS poems. The plums that bastard stole from your fridge (this one’s borne out in real life when my son finishes the cherries in the fridge that I was looking forward to eating), and the surprise ending of “so much depends upon / a red wheel barrow / glazed with rain water / beside the white chickens” (not a white fence, a white barn, a white house, a white truck? It’s chickens?). I had not ever read THE LOCUST TREE IN FLOWER, which has two versions. The first version has a good bit more words; the second, pithier version is exactly what appears in the circled squares, read from top to bottom: “Among of green stiff old bright broken branch come white sweet May again.” What?? “Among of” violates standard grammar, does it not?

Having been unfamiliar with the poem, this puzzle played like a perplexingly unthemed 21x puzzle with a mini-theme at 3d and 15d.

Ten things:

  • 41a. [Walk with swaying hips], ROLLING GAIT. The clue read like a verb phrase rather than an awkward noun.
  • 51a. [Prominent parts], SALIENCES. I never knew you could pluralize that.
  • 85a. [She’s courted in “The Courtship of Miles Standish”], PRISCILLA. Did not know that.
  • 97a. [1990 Mike Leigh comedy/drama], LIFE IS SWEET. I think I saw it but don’t remember it well. Leigh’s Secrets and Lies (1996) was so excellent.
  • 102a. [“E.T.” boy and others], ELLIOTTS. Minus .1 for a plural first name occupying so much space. See also: 9d. [Common pizzeria name], ANGELO’S. Not a plural, but rather arbitrary.
  • 1d. [Dutch pot contents], TULIP. I assumed the answer would be some particular cannabinoid.
  • 13d. [Ahab, e.g.], PEGLEG. I had the LE in place and confidently filled in WHALER.
  • 32d. [Internet troll, intentionally], ANGERER. This entry is a me angerer.
  • 68d. [Ones whose work is decreasing?], IRONERS. Another roll-your-own sort of word. Maybe the dry cleaning world actually hires people specifically as IRONERS? I don’t know.
  • 78d. [Comic impressionist David], FRYE. Never heard of him. Apparently he did a mean LBJ back in the day.

Until I Googled the poem after solving, I really didn’t see what the theme’s point was, and it wasn’t a particularly entertaining solve. If you know the poem’s second version, I imagine that was a nice aid to solving, as you filled in familiar bits of the poem while moving down the grid. If you are lacking that particular bit of cultural literacy, then you might have been in the same boat as me, bailing out letters as the puzzle sank.

3.25 stars from me.

Melanie Miller’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “L-iminated”—Andy’s review

LAT Puzzle by Melanie Miller, "L-iminated," 5.10.15

LAT Puzzle by Melanie Miller, “L-iminated,” 5.10.15

Another of these themes with practically infinite possibilities. Common phrase – L = uncommon phrase. Hilarity ensues:

  • 23a, THE POT THICKENS [Comment after a big raise?]. The plot thickens.
  • 42a, FROSTED FAKES [Faux furs left out in the cold?]. Frosted flakes. 
  • 60a, MILE HIGH CUB [Chicago athlete in Denver?]. Mile high club. 
  • 84a, BARNEY STONE [Gem named for a dinosaur?]. Blarney Stone.
  • 99a, BEACHED BLOND [Fair-haired castaway?]. Bleached blond.
  • 120a, YOUR PACE OR MINE [Running buddy’s question? ] Your place or mine? 
  • 33d, PEA BARGAIN [Green Giant deal?]. Confluent. This one was my least favorite.
  • 56d, POWER PANTS [Slacks for the boardroom?] Power plants.

All the theme entries were fine, just fine. UNHAT stands out to me as the worst of the surrounding fill, but mostly the rest of the fill is good stuff like PUP TENTS, PARTY DIP, DHARMA, SNO-CAT, etc. Not terribly exciting, but a solid Sunday puzzle.

3.5 stars. Until next time!

Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “Back It Up”–Sam Donaldson’s review

"Back It Up" solution (May 10)

“Back It Up” solution (May 10)

The note accompanying this week’s puzzle reads as follows: “May is the only month that spells another word backward. Hence, this puzzle.” That’s a pretty big hint to the theme: one word in each of twelve (twelve! When will I stop being impressed with the theme density in Merl’s puzzles?) common phrases is reversed to form twelve new, wacky phrases that are clued accordingly. Like such:

  • “Dora the Explorer” becomes A-ROD THE EXPLORER, clued as [Ballplayer with an adventure series on Nickelodeon?]. This was the first theme entry to fall, so I figured all of the reversed words would come up front.
  • Well, kinda. “Cranberry” turns into NARC-BERRY, the [Favorite yogurt flavor of undercover cops?]. This one’s a bit different because “cranberry” is a single word, not two, so here we are reversing just the front part of the word. So I suppose the theme is reversing the first few letters, regardless of whether those letters are themselves a separate word.
  • Next up is BOTH SIDES WON, clued as [Reason for a double celebration?]. Only now do I see that there was a Judy Collins song called “Both Sides Now.” Feel free to play it as you read the rest of the post.
More importantly, note that the reversed word here comes at the end instead of the beginning. So now it seems the reversed word can come anywhere. Stay alert, people!

  • “Tablespoons” become TABLE-SNOOPS, or [Restaurant eavesdroppers?]. So now we’ve hit for the cycle: we’ve seen reversed word up front, reversed letter sequence up front, reversed word in back, and now reversed letter sequence in back. Wow, all four variations in just the first four theme entries.
  • “Acrophobia,” the fear of heights, turns into ORCA-PHOBIA, a [Fear of whales?] or crossword awards.
  • One who dies “goes to one’s reward” (so the internet says, anyway). That’s repurposed here into GOES TO ONE’S DRAWER, clued as [Seeks out socks or silverware?]. I like the alliteration in the clue.
  • “And justice for all” morphs into DNA JUSTICE FOR ALL, or [What forensic science offers?]. Probably my favorite theme entry of the bunch.
  • Why take a phaser and “set for stun” when you can SET FOR NUTS, the [Phaser command heard on “Squirrel Trek”?]? That’s a-corn-y pun.
  • The “meatball sub” becomes a MEATBALL BUS, an [Italian food truck?].
  • [What latecomers to the Winfrey River Cruise might find?] is NO OPRAH BOATS, the result of reversing the first word in “harpoon boats.” So now we reverse not one, but two words. It’s called taking liberties for comedic effect.
  • “Red states” here become DER STATES, or [America, to a German?].
  • Finally, “Paul Newman is Hud” changes to PAUL NEWMAN IS DUH, clued as [Words on a 1963 movie poster – as if I need to tell you?]. I think we’re supposed to parse this as “The words on the movie poster are ‘Paul Newman is,’ which you can plainly see for yourself.” Hem. Er, I mean, “meh.”

With all the theme entries, the abundance of three-letter answers and black squares probably cannot be avoided. But all the shorter entries can make the solving experience feel a bit more like a grind. There’s not much in the way of non-thematic fill to call out.

So let’s get to this week’s countdown of the trickiest entries in the puzzle:

  • 5. I did not know that ROBERT I was [Richard III’s successor], but the crossings made him easy to suss out.
  • 4. And no, I didn’t know that [“La donne e mobile” is in] B-MAJ(or). Here the crossings were also helpful, but the answer is pretty isolated in the northwest corner, so if you struggled with any of the crossings this one would have been harder to get.
  • 3. So there’s a TEXAS DIP that a DEB takes, and it’s a [Curtsy in which one’s head nearly touches the floor]. I would have thought it’s a big sandwich.
  • 2. I’ve seen a similar clue for this before, but others may have been stumped by [Director of Vivien and Marlon] for ELIA Kazan. Remember this tip: four letters? director? first name? It’s ELIA.
  • 1. I’m not sure I ever knew that an ORRERY is a [Model of the solar system]. And I’m banking a few other solvers will feel the same way.

Favorite entry = OH RIGHT, clued as [“Thanks for reminding me!”]. Favorite clue = [What “colonel” has?] for NO R. Why parse an answer as one word when you can make it into two words?

Doug Peterson’s Sunday Challenge CrosSynergy crossword —Ade’s write-up  

CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge crossword solution, 05.10.15

CrosSynergy Sunday Challenge crossword solution, 05.10.15

Happy Mother’s Day to all you amazing women out there! Definitely sending hugs and kisses to all who care and love and sacrifice so much in taking care of the ones you love. There’s also a lot to love about today’s Sunday Challenge, brought to us once again by Mr. Doug Peterson. Couldn’t really get a foothold to begin at the Northwest, though SULTAN was pretty much a gimme (3D: [“The ______ of Swat” (Ruth’s nickname)]). FETA should have been a lay-up as well, but was overthinking for some reason and didn’t put it down immediately (5D: [Crumbly salad topper]). Went down to the Southwest, and that’s where I knew ANACONDA off the bat, then I really started working that area (31D: [1997 horror film set in the Amazon]). From there, I got WASTE (52A: [Nuclear _____]) and HUT pretty easily (48D: [Rough house]), and that set me up, with just two of the letters filled in, to get ENCHANTED FOREST, an entry I really liked (47A: [Setting for a fantastic story, perhaps]). The other 15-letter entry, BELATED BIRTHDAYtook much longer to get, as I was thinking about all of the headings used on the aisles containing birthday cards (17A: [Greeting card genre]). By the way, I won’t be able to think about REYNOLDS Wrap without thinking about rap music, with the way the clue was presented (14D: [Wrap star]). For the rest of the day, you can refer to me as DJ Foil. Hmm, as a matter-of-fact, that’s actually not a bad on-stage name. I’m foiling all other music artists who think they’re just as good as me!

“Sports will make you smarter” moment of the day: LUKAS (26A: [D. Wayne _____ (trainer of four Kentucky Derby winners)])– Darrell Wayne LUKAS owns the record for the most Triple Crown race wins by a trainer with 14, setting the new mark when his horse, Oxbow, won the Preakness Stakes in 2013. What were the names of the four winning Kentucky Derby horses for Lukas you ask? Well, there’s Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995), Grindstone (1996) and Charismatic (1999).

See you all in the new week!

Take care!


Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “Heads of State” — pannonica’s write-up

CRooked • 5/10/15 • "Heads of State" • Hook • hex/hook, bg • solution

CRooked • 5/10/15 • “Heads of State” • Hook • hex/hook, bg • solution

Standard two-letter state abbreviations are prefixed to existing phrases, altering them. The states are indicated by referencing a prominent city in the state,

  • 22a. [Philly 16-year-old’s ride?] PARENTAL CAR (PA, Pennsylvania).
  • 34a. [Where Madisonians print money?] WITHIN MINTS (WI, Wisconsin).
  • 65a. [Times for lawnwork in Kansas City?] MOWING SPANS (MO, Missouri).
  • 93a. [Atlantan’s Africa safari?] GABON VOYAGE (GA, Georgia). A potentially confusing Savannah reference is obviated by 100a [Treeless plain] SAVANNA.
  • 107a. [Providence doc’s highest-value pic?] RICHEST X-RAY (RI, Rhode Island).
  • 15d. [Organize Little Rock nomads?] ARRANGE ROVERS (AR, Arkansas).
  • 19d. [Richmond bum’s resting place?] VAGRANT’S TOMB (VA, Virginia).
  • 54a. [Commandeer VWs on Oahu?] HIJACK RABBITS (HI, Hawaii).
  • 57d. [Craving for candelabras in Bangor?] MENORAH JONES (ME, Maine).

Most of  these preserve the original word spacing. It’s interesting to note that the compound wingspan and jackrabbit share similar Ngram historical frequencies relative to their two-word versions. No dramatic recombinations here. On balance, I found them to be mostly entertaining, though some are strained. (89d [Strained, in a way] COLADA.)

  •  9d [Atoll of W.W.II fame] TARAWA, 43d [Soprano Kiri Te __ ] KANAWA. I feel like David Letterman at the Oscars in ’95. See also, Tinariwen (Grooveshark is defunct, alas; it was inevitable).
  • 39d [Skillet] FRYPAN, 2d [Sturdy vessel] SEA BOAT. The former seems much more familiar to me (evidenced in part by the compounding of the word), but they possess similarities.
  • 91a [Major Nelson’s aide] JEANNIE. “Aide” seems clunky here.

There’s easily more to say about this crossword, but unfortunately I was unable to get to it until late in the day, so it’s unlikely to generate much conversation at this point. It’s an uncontroversial puzzle anyway, as far as I know.

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22 Responses to Sunday, May 10, 2015

  1. Zulema says:

    I don’t usually solve the Sunday puzzle but this one I found worth my effort, and I enjoyed it. I was also hoping for the red wheelbarrow, by the way.
    I believe that Priscilla Alden and Myles Standish were the great-great (or more) grandparents of our second president, John Adams.

    • Martin from Charlottesville says:

      I also liked The Red Wheelbarrow.

      Your post reminded me of a poem I read a long time ago, so I dug into this a little.
      Longfellow’s poem was called The Courtship of Miles Standish, and it tells how Miles Standish asked John Alden to go to Priscilla Mullins and to propose a marriage between Miles and Priscilla. John went to her and was making a case for his friend. But —

      Archly the maiden smiled, and, with eyes over-running with laughter,
      Said, in a tremulous voice, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?”

      In the poem and in real life John and Priscilla ended up marrying. There were 10 children. According to the link below, one of their daughters, Ruth, was President John Adams’ great grandmother.

      The Wikipedia article below mentions that some scholars question some of the poem’s claims, and also that Longfellow was related to the Aldens and claimed to be relating oral history. Grain of salt required?

  2. David and Heather says:

    We slogged thru a good bit of this one, and the slogging wasn’t worth it since we didn’t know (or particularly enjoy) the odd poem. Our first entry was the poet’s name (15D), which we got after going thru a few poet names. To our surprise, the rest of the puzzle did not come as quickly; we kept trying to make 3D have to do with wheelbarrows (or chickens). We also had a few problems with the many (often awful) three-letter abbrevs.

    Amy, do you ever give fewer than 3 stars? I think that you giving 3.25 stars is the equivalent of giving an essay a D, saying, in essence, “Yes, your submission was accepted and you didn’t fail.”

    • Eliza says:

      I agree about the last part; does Amy ever award fewer than three stars? Has she ever? Let alone 3.25 stars? She made it clear in her review that she thought the puzzle stank, but then she goes with “3.25” stars. All the puzzles are above average.

      I used to be an analyst on Wall Street. You could hardly ever rate a stock as under-performer without some a$$ from the other side of the business telling you he was courting business from your under-performer. So it became routine to call the “sell it” stocks “market performers.” Everybody knew that you didn’t want to buy a market performer, because it’s much cheaper to buy something like a Vanguard index fund that mimics the market.

      Amy’s in the same conundrum. She’s too involved with the people she is rating. To her credit, I don’t think she is making much from her blog; it’s just that a lot of her contributors are also the people she rates.

      P.S. That rating of <2.0 was completely deserved. It was a bad crossword. It doesn't mean the constructor is a bad person, or has not constructed a great xword before, and won’t do so again. It just means, “This one sucked.”

  3. dr. fancypants says:

    NYT=dreary slog. Too many wasted long answers. Another piece of nonsense “E-” fill makes the cut with ELIST. And somehow the cluing just seemed a little… off. For example, I don’t think of an airbag as preventing a broken rib—the point of it is to prevent head injuries (in the context of what a car accident can do to you, a broken rib is pretty darn minor).

  4. huda says:

    NYT: The fact that both the name of the poem and the name of the poet fit so neatly is pretty cool. And the need to fit the poem sequentially into the puzzle pretty demanding. That of course places many constraints which affect the rest of the fill. But to me, the construction remains quite impressive.
    I think it’s unfortunate that the poem itself is not intrinsically lovely, at least not to me. I love spring, and locust flowers are very pretty on a tree that is not itself so gorgeous. So, I get the intent and the contrast. But somehow, the poem still does not resonate– which is really too bad. It would have been great if it had triggered a smile or a tiny moment of joy. Maybe it does for others and that could spell all the difference.
    Can someone who knows more explain: Is version 2 of a poem meant to be the better one? The one that captures the essence? Are there many poems with dual versions?

    • huda says:

      This Is Just to Say:

      I have eaten
      the plums
      that were in
      the icebox

      and which
      you were probably
      for breakfast

      Forgive me
      they were delicious
      so sweet
      and so cold


      This famous poem by WCW that Amy refers to was once the subject of a huge debate amongst a group of my colleagues. A small group of us use to meet once a month as something we called the Language and Culture Club… It was rather informal and people just talked about anything loosely related to language or culture… Someone brought this poem once, and people were so incredibly polarized, with one set thinking it was genius and another saying it sort of a scam.

  5. Matt says:

    I agree that the NYT was a slog. The abbreviation ‘GST’ is mentioned in Wikipedia, standing for Greenwich Sidereal Time, so I guess it’s legal– but it’s not, to my knowledge, commonly used among the various different amusing time scales that astronomers like to toss around. Considering that these time scales include the ‘Julian day’, which is defined by having day number 0 assigned to the day starting at noon on January 1, 4713 BCE, GST is a rather obscure one. FYI, here’s a few of the common ones:

    • bhensley says:

      Astronomer here. Will confirm that GST is not commonly used (based on an informal poll of colleagues following its 10/28/14 appearance). UTC and MJD are far far more common, though I wouldn’t advocate opening the floodgate that is astronomy acronyms and initialisms.

      • ahimsa says:

        I know GST only through crosswords.

        I do think UTC is a lot more common. I’m not an astronomy buff at all (let alone astronomer!). But I have seen UTC on web sites where you customize your location (e.g., time zones listed as UTC plus or minus some number).

  6. Merl Reagle puzzle: Robert I was NOT the successor to King Richard III (that was one of the Henrys) but there is a Duke of Normandy named Robert I who succeeded a Duke Richard III. Talk about obscure clues!

    • David L says:

      Thanks — you saved me the trouble of googling that! I knew there was no Robert I among the English kings, but thought maybe he was some Scottish dude.

      I don’t care for DER STATES, either. I know it’s supposed to joke German, but DER is singular and STATES is plural. It’s Die (Vereinigten) Staaten, in actual German.

      And I didn’t understand NO OPRAH BOATS. Since the other answers involved reversing only one word, I was trying to puzzle out if a HARPO BOAT was a thing…

    • LB says:

      Possibly the worst clue and answer EVER! Thanks for the explanation.

  7. Sarah says:

    I’ve never seen a NYT crossword rated so low – at 1.78 when I wrote this. Lowest rated NYT ever?

    Not surprised at the ratings – the theme is irrelevant and boring. Never heard of the poet or the poem. The poem makes you wonder if that’s really the poem because its syntax is so bizarre. Add on bizarre stuff like REWEAVE and I had to rate this 1 star.

  8. AV says:

    LAT: Beached BLond and MiLe High Cub? Not ok in my books.

    • ahimsa says:

      I really enjoyed the LAT puzzle and theme (PEA BARGAIN, BARNEY STONE, POWER PANTS) even though I noticed that a couple of theme entries had remaining Ls. The theme still worked for me because if you think of it as one L being removed from each phrase then it’s consistent.

      But I would have probably given it even more stars if all theme entries had been L free.

  9. Christopher Smith says:

    NYT: Failed this. First time in about a year. SW corner. EIDERS next to IODATE I was never going to get without help but clues for things like ELLIOTTS & BROIL were unnecessarily obscure, especially given the very specific theme & all the other garbage others have mentioned.

  10. Margaret says:

    I was OK with Merl’s Paul Newman theme answer because I remember this poster very clearly: Also I’m a sucker for Merl’s puns, so I enjoyed this week (and last week’s foreign dog theme as well.)

    Oh and psst Andy, looks like you missed a cut and paste, you still have your confluent comment on the LAT pea/plea bargain line. I noticed because pea bargain was my favorite of the theme answers.

  11. Jeff says:

    A NYT fail for me, too.

    Sesame Street does not teach RRR. No writing or arithmetic. Letters and numbers, yes, but only identifying them, I think, not doing anything with them.

  12. John Haber says:

    I’m sorry about the low ratings of this puzzle. For me, first, it was a harder than average Sunday, which I appreciated. Second, unlike the trivia that so annoys me and makes me differ from the group here in wanting to rate the puzzle negative stars, here you’re not supposed to know the poem; you’re supposed to work it out and find, in the poem itself, a surprising meaning. Third, as others have noted, the theme long answers and embedded poem mean a tough construction.

    But also, I just kept thinking that, hey, if I have on so many Saturdays to put up being asked to know forgettable trivia from sports, lousy movies, TV shows, and chains that never did establish a presence in New York (and, alas, this puzzle did have that Mike Nichols movie, much as I like Mike Nichols, Crocs, and a few such), then you can put up with a puzzle about one of American literature’s greatest figures ever, whether you know him or not.

    Incidentally, if you want to lighten up on him, surf for “Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams” by Kenneth Koch.

  13. Greg says:

    This was much harder than the usual Sunday. (I found the western half particularly difficult.) But it was ultimately doable and, I thought, rewarding. Williams was a great poet and, although I’d never heard of this poem before, I was glad to learn of it – and impressed by Mr Stulberg’s skill in getting everything in.

  14. e.a. says:

    i wouldn’t call 39A in the CRooked “uncontroversial,” but [frog emoji] [tea emoji]

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