Sunday, May 24, 2015

NYT 12:37 (Amy) 
LAT 7:03 (Andy) 
Reagle 14:46 (Sam) 
Hex/Hook 10:19 (pannonica) 
CS tk (Ade) 

Kevin Der’s New York Times crossword, “A Tale of Many Cities”

NY Times crossword solution, 5 24 15 "A Tale of Many Cities"

NY Times crossword solution, 5 24 15 “A Tale of Many Cities”

This puzzle is a 23×23, which is surprising since Will announced in the fall of 2010 that he was no longer accepting Sunday puzzles larger than the standard 21×21 size. I suspect that means this puzzle was accepted 4.5+ years ago and has been languishing in the backlog ever since. It was rather a slog to get through, and the theme execution is much less elegant than we’ve come to expect from Kevin. I couldn’t even figure out what the circled letters were for without reading the puzzle’s notepad info: “When this puzzle is completed, the circled letters will form a path (starting in the first circle of 93-Across) spelling out the puzzle’s theme. Each long Down answer contains a hidden city, reading in order from top to bottom, not necessarily consecutively. The location of the city, and its number of letters, are indicated.” The first and last Down answers are JULES / VERNE. The eight long Down answers have city names hidden within them, interspersed but in order (and those letters are not circled because there’s a whole ‘nother circles thing going on). The circled squares in 93-Across are A and R, and if you think of Verne you might think of Around the World in Eighty Days. It’s a horrendously disordered path tracing out that title, though, isn’t it? It even crosses itself en route from the I in 132a ETUI to the G in 107a GEL.

Here are the hidden cities, from left to right:

  • 3d. Brooklyn Heights school [U.S.; 3,9], SAINT FRANCIS COLLEGE, San Francisco. Those last 9 letters are contiguous. Never heard of the school.
  • 31d. PBS craft show for 21 seasons [U.S.; 3,4], THE NEW YANKEE WORKSHOP, New York.
  • 6d. Relaxing [U.K.; 6] LETTING ONE’S HAIR DOWN, London. 6 city letters, 13 non?
  • 75d. Ones pressed into service in the kitchen? [Egypt; 4] LEMON SQUEEZERS, Suez. Sheesh, only 4 letters hiding in here, and Suez is far from the same level as the other cities. A half million people, not a tourism magnet? Also, I think lemon juicers and reamers are more familiar than squeezers.
  • 10d. 1988 Bon Jovi hit [India; 6], BORN TO BE MY BABY, Bombay. Except it’s generally called Mumbai now. Never heard of the song.
  • 39d. Military trial for a misdemeanor [India; 8], SPECIAL COURT-MARTIAL, Calcutta. Didn’t know a special court-martial was a thing.
  • 14d. 1996 Geena Davis thriller [China; 4,4], THE LONG KISS GOOD NIGHT, Hong Kong.
  • 41d. “Get it?” [Japan; 8], YOU KNOW WHAT I’M SAYING, Yokohama. Yokohama isn’t that familiar to Americans, but it’s Japan’s second-largest city, after Tokyo.

So I wasn’t loving all the theme answers, all the cities, the way the city names were embedded, or the way the circled letters’ path travels. That leaves the rest of the puzzle, then, to win me back over. I like OPEN BAR, HOT DATES, BAGPIPES, MARATHON, WONKY … and then there’s all the unlikeable fill. ERN STET ERST ESSO ONKP NABE UDE EDER EROO ROTA WEEB EWER K_CAR OTOE OSH ETUI YEE ERI and FANON jump out in the Acrosses, and there are also plenty of things like ATRI and EPODE in the Downs. An onslaught of crosswordese in a puzzle big enough to accommodate an awful lot of it.

Having not read the notepad info before solving, there was a whole lot of “Why??” while I was working the puzzle. Finding out why there are circled letters afterwards didn’t do much to redeem the experience.

Kevin’s published about 30 NYT crosswords and I reckon I liked all of the previous ones better than this. I won’t hold this against him, because any crossword he makes now will be much more polished than this one.

Two stars from me.

Postscript: Kevin messaged me to explain the theme a little better. Those of us who haven’t read Around the World don’t necessarily know what goes on in the book. The protagonist sails to all of the cities that are hidden in the theme answers, in the order that the circled-squares path takes you to them, and when the circled-squares title goes from I to G, it’s not crossing the AROUND portion of the path—it’s going behind the grid, around the back side of the globe. This was all totally lost on me, and I suppose the notepad could have been more revealing, but would have provided major spoilers if it had been.

Mark Bickham’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Hatch Job”—Andy’s review

LAT Puzzle 5.24.15, "Hatch Job," by Mark Bickham

LAT Puzzle 5.24.15, “Hatch Job,” by Mark Bickham

Two-word phrases that are literally hiding 104a, NESTING BIRDS [Signs of spring that are literally hidden in the answers to the starred clues]. Literal hilarity literally ensues:

  • 25a, ALWAY(S WAN)TED [*Dreamt of]. 
  • 27a, AR(MY NA)VY [*Type of surplus store]. 
  • 32a, STARTE(D OVE)R [*Forgot the past]. 
  • 64a, VENTNO(R AVEN)UE [*Yellow Monopoly property].
  • 94a, POPU(LAR K)IDS [*School in-crowd].
  • 101a, HAL(F INCH) [*Tape width, perhaps]. 
  • 33d, T(HE RON)ETTES [*”Be My Baby” singers].
  • 38d, SN(OW L)EOPARD [*Alpine feline]. 
  • 49d, LO(W REN)T [*Like some flats]. 

Lots of good stuff. ALWAYS WANTED wasn’t my favorite phrase by itself, but it was mostly fine. Didn’t care for the dupe with GOTTA GO and GO TO SEA. Otherwise, a smooth, nice easy Sunday puzzle.

I got a bit tripped up in the SE corner; I was sure 117a, [In] was ELECTED. This gave me the nonsense word SEDD at 110d, [Apple product]. Turns out “in” can be a noun referring to a person who’s been voted in, which gives ELECTEE/SEED.

That’s all from me. 3.6 stars. Until next time!

Merl Reagle’s syndicated Sunday crossword, “See You Sooner or Later”–Sam Donaldson’s review

"See You Sooner or Later" solution

“See You Sooner or Later” solution

“See you,” in text speak (for those with lazy thumbs), is “c u.” Here, the bigram “CU” gets added to ten common terms to make some wacky new ones. Sometimes the CU comes up early, and sometimes it’s near the end. Hence the title, “See You Sooner or Later,” which might be re-parsed as “CU, sooner in the theme answer or later in the theme answer–you’ll just have to guess where each time.”

Here are the theme entries:

  • The [Answer to, “What makes you so smart, dude?”] is ACUMEN, BROTHER, based on “Amen, brother.” A nice way to start–the theme becomes obvious, and the answer has a pleasant payoff.
  • A “sad sack” turns into a SAD CUSACK, or [Actor John after not being cast?]. John Cusack always has a naturally sad face anyway, so who’s to say how he really feels.
  • The “merry-go-round” now becomes a MERCURY-GO-ROUND, the [Popular ride at FordmotorWorld?]. I like how the clue just goes for it–the “FordmotorWorld” theme park is a fun image.
  • I never knew there was a “Windsor tie.” A “Windsor knot,” sure. But not a “Windsor tie.” Still, it didn’t take long to figure out WINDSOR CUTIE as the answer to [Britain’s baby Charlotte, for example?].
  • The James Hilton tale, Lost Horizon, here becomes LOCUST HORIZON, a [Book about a field trip that didn’t end too well?]. Huh? Field trip? Why does the clue take that angle, I wonder.
  • You knew this one was coming: Benedict Cumberbatch becomes BENEDICT CUCUMBERBATCH, the [Actor famous for his homemade pickles?]. I wish the clue had parsed this as BENEDICT CUCUMBER BATCH so we could imagine a former Pope pleased with his vegetable garden harvest.
  • “Mise-en-scène,” the French term for describing visual design, becomes MISCUE-EN-SCENE, like [Wearing a watch during “Hamlet,” for example?]. There’s much comedy to be found in anachronisms.
  • “P.S., I Love You,” a Cecilia Ahern novel from about ten years ago, here morphs into CUPS, I LOVE YOU, the [Coffee addict’s comment when he opens his kitchen cabinet?].
  • It takes two theme entries to get this one: the parental plea of “Call us as soon as you land” changes substantially into CALCULUS AS SOON / AS YOU LAND, clued as an [ad promise from an out-of-state math camp?]. So here the letter addition serves to unite two separate words into one. That’s not nearly as jarring as…
  • … “grand master” becoming GRANDMA CUSTER, cleverly clued as [Person who said, “I told him not to go down there, but would he listed? Nooooo”?]. Here we keep the two words but change the location of the spacing. Like I said, jarring.

Again, the theme density here is remarkable. But it came with a cost, as we segue now into our countdown of the trickiest entries in the puzzle. Normally we feature the five hardest entries. But since this week’s grid has an unusually high quotient of weird stuff, here’s a full-blown top ten list:

  • 10. The [Small bone] in your ear is an OSSICLE. On a hot summer day, there’s nothing like an ice-cold ossicle.
  • 9. If you’re sorta new to crosswords, you might have been stumped by ULU, the [Eskimo knife]. Somewhere there’s a crossword with SULU’S ULU as a theme entry.
  • 8. Next up is ULULATE, clued as [Tardy Eskimo knife] [Wail].
  • 7. ANIL is both an [Indigo source] and a sign of desperation from a crossword constructor. You’ll see it in the New York Times puzzle on occasion, but it’s much rarer in the other major crossword outlets.
  • 6. Wikipedia says CLU Gulager “is an American television and film actor and director, particularly noted for his co-starring role as William H. Bonney (Billy The Kid) in the 1960–1962 NBC television series The Tall Man and for his role as Emmett Ryker in another NBC western series, The Virginian.” I didn’t have a clue about him.
  • 5. ANSAE are [Looped vase handles] that, according to the Cruciverb database, have appeared just eight times in major crosswords in the past 21 years despite all the common letters.
  • 4. Something that’s [Of the dawn] is EOAN. Egads! What the ‘ell happened to the L from E-LOAN?
  • 3. This one scares me: SCHERZI, the plural of scherzo, are [Lively movements] in music. (It doesn’t really scare me–it’s just that “scherzi” sounds a little like “scares me.” Move along, please.)
  • 2. As one of Scottish descent, I feel like I should know a SPORRAN is a [Pouch worn with a kilt]. Me dead grandmother is probably ashamed.
  • 1. I didn’t know Mount HOREB is another name for Mount Sinai, the [Biblical peak].

Favorite entry = DIG A HOLE, clued as [Prepare for planting]. Favorite clue = [It runs in the woods] for SAP.

Henry Hook’s CRooked crossword, “Initial Impressions” — pannonica’s write-up

CRooked • 5/24/15 • "Initial Impressions" • Hook • hex/hook, bg • solution

CRooked • 5/24/15 • “Initial Impressions” • Hook • hex/hook, bg • solution

Bunch of famous people’s clued via a descriptive two-word phrase matching their initials.

  • 22a. [Overweight Half] OLIVER HARDY.
  • 34a. [Mormon Republican] MITT ROMNEY.
  • 57a. [Tennis Alumna] TRACY AUSTIN.
  • 69a. [Suave Host] STEVE HARVEY.
  • 80a. [Megalomaniacal Athlete] MUHAMMAD ALI.
  • 101a. [Journalistically Satirical] JON STEWART.
  • 119a. [Knowledgeable Juggernaut] KEN JENNINGS.
  • 3d. [Brooklyn Superstar] BARBRA STREISAND.
  • 39d. [Greasepaint Moustache] GROUCHO MARX.
  • 47d. [Stage Songsmith] STEPHEN SONDHEIM.

The first two I completed were O Hardy and G Marx, so I thought it was going to be comedic entertainers. Disabuse came about soon enough.

Plenty of other personages in the grid—NUREYEV, ALITO, FABIO, SHUE, EARNIE, and OLIVA, to name a few—but no other full names. It would be madness to expect a 21×21 crossword to eliminate them and remain intelligible, for the sake of resisting interlopement.

Typical mix of longer non-theme entries, crosswordese groaners, and the like. I won’t list them this time.

Favorite clues/answers. For cleverness: 75a [Its construction took at least 25 hours] ROME. For surprise: 118a [Honey Smacks mascot] DIG ’EM. For baldfaced audacity: 88a [Shak. title initials] AYLI. Make what you will of that.

Good puzzle, about average. (91a [Benchmark (abbr.)] STD.)

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30 Responses to Sunday, May 24, 2015

  1. Dave says:

    Reading the explanation that the theme holds together better than at first impression helped a little, but not much. I haven’t seen ETUI in a while… it is the EPITOME of CROSSWORDESE. (and URU, REG, ATV, MSN, ONBY, OSES and …). I didn’t enjoy this one.

  2. TOBIN says:

    The postscript says “The protagonist sails to all of the cities that are hidden in the theme answers …”.

    Small nit: He sails to none of the cities (too slow, so he uses steamships); and he only reaches some of the cities on his itinerary via ship. Other modes of transport include train, elephant, wind-borne sledge, and other means as necessary.

    In fact, the final real-world innovation that made it possible to envision an 80-day circumnavigation was the (reported) completion of a rail line in India, which is why Bombay and Calcutta are both on the itinerary. Of course, the first-time reader does not know before the journey whether the reported train line is usable, whether the 80-day deadline is feasible, and what other means of transport besides steamboat and train will end up being utilized!

  3. M Sharp says:

    Loved it. We never see this kind of ambition from the NYT Sunday any more. All the cities on Fogg’s itinerary, in order, the path of the book title going up and down like the balloon … on a completely different plane from most of the tired junk we’ve been served lately.

  4. M Sharp says:

    LOL. OK I take back the balloon angle. But the itinerary alone is still legit.

    “Although a journey by balloon has become one of the images most strongly associated with the story, this iconic symbol was never deployed by Verne – the idea is briefly brought up in chapter 32, but dismissed, it “would have been highly risky and, in any case, impossible.” However the popular 1956 movie adaptation Around the World in Eighty Days floated the balloon idea, and it has now become a part of the mythology of the story, even appearing on book covers.” (wikipedia)

  5. Jim Q says:

    Hands up for “I never read that book, but I know I should’ve at some point, and it’s been on my shelf, but I just picked up ‘The Girl on the Train’ instead… and ‘Wolf Hall’ is next…” Really, I need to read that book… it’s way ahead of OMOO.

  6. Martin from C. says:

    NY Times: So tired from slogging that I skipped the circles and cities and read Amy’s explication. Thanks, Amy. The 1956 movie on which the puzzle is based starred David Niven, Cantinflas, and Shirley MacLaine. It won 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

    — Liked [grasps] = KENS, [stuck in a mess] = ON KP, the long down answers, and WEEB.
    — Naticked: 96D [___ Tate, onetime English poet laureate] NAHUM x 109A [Kyrgyz province] OSH. Tate became poet laureate in 1692. [___ Kosh, b’gosh] is tired, but the crossword is extra large and there are plenty of challenges elsewhere in it.
    — Nitpick: 91D [Event often in a front yard] for TAG SALE didn’t sit well with me. I used to see “red tag sales” in stores, but not much anymore. Where I live, the events in the front yards are called “yard sales.” And mostly the items aren’t tagged. Usually, a sign says “Books – $1, Plates – 50 cents, etc.”

    For constructors: one of the clues was [vehicle with a folding top], for SHAY. Other answers could be either “balloon” or “parachute.”

    • Papa John says:

      I skipped the extended theme, too, having become fully disgruntled by the mass of terrible fill and wearisome meta. Even some of the long themes containing the names of the cities are unreasonable, uninteresting and mostly unknown — Bon Jovi’s third-rate song, Geena Davis’s third-rate movie, Brooklyn’s third-rate college. (BTW, there are at least a half dozen St. Francis colleges in the US; but this is the NY Times, hence, Brooklyn, I suppose.) The amount of recondite fill was certainly off-putting. The overdose of crosswordese was fatal.

      If I were to describe this puzzle in one word it would be “clumsy”, tripping over its own complexity.

      • Zulema says:

        St. Francis in Brooklyn is where I did my two education course requirements for a NYC teaching license (never used). The puzzle I did not delve into. Still miss the WaPo Puzzler very much.

      • jfponeill says:

        Pop music and movies are fair game, but maligning the alma mater of many thousands of good people is uncalled for.
        –non alum.

  7. Mark M says:

    osh crossing nahum = natick?

    • Papa John says:

      One person’s Natick is another’s gimme…

    • dr. fancypants says:

      That crossing was the epitome of Natick–two completely non-inferrable proper nouns, where several consonants seemed plausible.

  8. Christopher Smith says:

    NYT: Looking at Wikipedia there are a few cities–Shanghai, Omaha & (ugh) Queenstown (now Cobh)–that aren’t theme-clued here. And as already noted he takes a train to some of these cities, instead of sailing. And all the garbage fill. This was poor & makes two weeks out of three where the puzzle was difficult or impossible to solve unless you were familiar with an old/obscure piece of literature. Times needs to raise its game.

  9. P. Ulrich says:

    CrosSynergy Sunday name games for May 24: web version is called “Sunday Challenge”; emailed version is called “Sunday Challenge”; print version in Washington Post is now called “Post Puzzler” this week, like the old Peter Gordon puzzles, after having been called “Sunday Challenge” during the previous portion of the CrosSynergy takeover from Peter Gordon. I guess Mr. Gordon didn’t have rights to the name…

  10. Norm says:

    In the 9D column, isn’t the wrong N circled? If you’re going down and around the back of the grid, the D in AROUND comes before the N. Either the N in SONNET should have been circled, or you’re not really going around but simply bouncing from top to bottom. Am I missing something here?

    • Papa John says:

      Yes, you’re missing the time you could have spent with your family, rather than mess around with this global joke. (Boy, I really did not like this puzzle!)

      • Norm says:

        Well. my wife was at church and my daughter is in Berlin this week, so it wasn’t as though as I much else to do while watching the final day of EPL action on multiple channels. :)

  11. huda says:

    NYT: I feel about this puzzle as I do about certain people– I strongly admire something about them but don’t love them as a whole person.

    Here, I applaud the ambitiousness and the departure from standard Sunday tricks. But the price was high. May be it was WEEB who got me…

    A small aside: SUEZ is a big deal because of its historic and strategic importance. The Suez Canal crisis was a turning point in Middle Eastern politics.

    • Huda says:

      I surprised myself by knowing the New Yankee Workshop! Thanks to my husband for having a workshop, so I occasionally watched the show to get ideas for gizmos to buy as presents… Himself being impossible to buy for. But this was actually a really cool show…
      Always interesting where knowledge bubbles from..

  12. Papa John says:

    SUEZ is certainly more known for it’s mid-east political importance than it is as a stopping-off point in Verne’s tale.

  13. mike the wino says:

    Reagle writeup: Even better? Worse? How about Sulu’s ulus (sulusulus) for a palindromic entry?

  14. Jeff says:

    Why wouldn’t you read the notepad before doing the puzzle? It’s not a spoiler – it’s meant to be read before doing the puzzle. In the print version in the magazine it’s right there on the page below the constructor’s name and before the first clue. That’s always the case with notepad entries. They’re meant to be read.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      It’s pretty easy to miss the existence of the notepad text when solving via .puz file (and I use Black Ink, not Across Lite, so there’s no little notepad icon to prompt clicking). And sometimes, the notepad gives away too much of a trick, when it can be fun to take the challenge of figuring it all out oneself. (With this puzzle, I wasn’t going to figure it out myself without Googling the Verne book.)

  15. Bob says:

    Reagle has reached the nadir of puzzledom with this Sunday’s garbage. Full of inane contrived words and sophomoric defs. Poor guy must have eaten bad bile while constructing this mess. Otherwise, it was fun solving. (I jest)

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Y’know, Bob, you continue to spew bile on Merl’s puzzles, week after week. Why do you persist in doing the puzzles and then telling us how unpleasant you found it?

  16. jim hale says:

    I mostly concur with what others have said. The few cool things were far out weighed by obscure references. I particularly disliked otoe associated with Red Rock, having come from Utah.
    I don’t pay too much attention to the identities of NYT puzzle authors, but am appreciative of their effort and hope they get better from laying an egg occasionally.

  17. John Haber says:

    Basically, it’s themeless puzzle with a meta, which is already as far from my liking as possible. Add to that the tiresome meta word hunts twice over, in the down clues and tracing the Verne title; the difficulty of locating circled letters if you solve from the print edition, after my pen has largely filled squares; the lingering feeling that ANY puzzle could yield any book title if you just circle the right letters; and the near total irrelevance of Verne today — and you’ve got a clunker. The large size meant you need an awful lot of gimmes to get rolling in all its corners.

    And that’s before the truly awful fill. I hadn’t heard of a good half the long down answers, much the same as Amy’s but also including the TV show. The other fill was worse still, like the skater and ORC. I had to guess at the crossing of the Indian leader and papal garment, and last to fall was the block with NO SOAP, UDE, the unsuccessfully jokey definition of EWER, and ROTA, which MW11 calls British usage. Ugh. And The Tempest has lots to remember, but a goddess? Not really.

    At least I knew NAHUM. He’s best known for being the most awful ever (having “fixed” King Lear for us, earning a central place in Alexander Pope’s “Dunciad”). Like, in fact, this puzzle.

  18. Mark McClain says:

    Agree the Sunday NYT was a little too much pain for the gain. Clever, for sure, and a constructing tour de force, but just not much fun. Admittedly I’m a bit of a curmudgeon and figure that if the title and/or a reveal aren’t enough to tip the theme, we’re into the meta puzzle arena and not really my bag.

  19. mickey says:

    Sam: #97A those of us who are older, would more than likely first think of
    The Beatles hit song “P.S. I Love You,” not that book you mentioned.

    Also… The Random House Unabridged Second Edition Dictionary defines a
    Windsor tie as a “wide, soft necktie of black silk, tied at the neck in a loose bow.”

    I enjoyed Merl’s puzzle, as I usually do.

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