Saturday, May 30, 2015

NYT 3:16* (Sam) 
Newsday 21:09 (Derek) 
LAT 13:24 (Derek) 
CS tk (Ade) 

Samuel A. Donaldson and Brad Wilber’s New York Times crossword–Sam Donaldson’s “review”

New York Times solution (May 30, 2015)

New York Times solution (May 30, 2015)

Amy’s attending the Indie 500 event in D.C. this weekend, so I get to cover the Saturday NYT puzzle in her stead. And lucky me! This was easily my best Saturday solving time in recent memory, and I just adored the puzzle. But maybe I’m biased.

Self-blogging is inherently awkward, but perhaps you might be interested in the puzzle’s back story. As I stated in the constructor notes over on xwordinfo, I always enjoy Brad’s puzzles because they teach me lots of new things. When Brad inquired about collaborating on a freestyle puzzle, I jumped at the chance. Collaboration is always fun because it lets me “peek behind the curtain” to see how other puzzle-makers work.

Brad's early work

Brad’s early work

Brad set the wheels in motion by sending me the partially-completed grid on the right. Actually, he sent me two grids, both with the DUXELLES ([Mushroom layer of a beef Wellington]) and DIXIECRAT ([Onetime Strom Thurmond designation]) crossing. I liked this one better because of the fun starter entry at 1-Across, KID’S MEAL ([It may facilitate playing with one’s food]), and the lively entry at 2-Down, I’M UP FOR IT ([Volunteer’s assurance]). I also liked how there were several options for 7-Down and 8-Down. Anyway, Brad suggested I play around with the grid and send him the result. I took that as an invitation to work on another corner of the grid, but I couldn’t help myself and eventually filled in two corners.

What I sent Brad

My contribution to the grid

Here’s what I sent back to Brad. My chief goal was to give him something smooth, and, with the exception of ASST ([No. 2]), I was happy with the result. LESTERS ([Newsman Holt and others]) may not be the best use of an LES- starter, but it left Brad with more options for 20-Across and 23-Across. I was happiest with SMELL TEST ([Informal gauge of credibility]) and DON’T ERASE ([Chalked warning left for custodial staff]).

Brad took us the rest of the way to completed grid. He makes those 6×5 corners look effortless. I especially like what he did in the northeast with LADY DI ([Spectator who got a standing O at Wimbledon in 1981]). Those crossings look so organic–like they all just naturally came together.

I took the first shot at the clues, writing about half of them. Some of my clues that ended up on the cutting room floor included: [Falsely accused of art theft?], the clue for FRAMED that Brad wisely improved to [Like TV’s Dr. Richard Kimble, famously]; [C-section sites] for ORS (changed to the less-graphic [Where most occupants need masks, for short]); and [Peyton’s Super Bowl XLVIII opponent] for RUSSELL, which Will Shortz and crew changed to [“The Principles of Mathematics” philosopher]. I’m happy that my ideas for the clues at 33- and 34-Down ([Where you might lose and hour] for STATE LINE and [It might gain you an hour] for TIME-SAVER) survived, though here too Brad, Will, and company made helpful modifications to get the final clues to work.

Brad came up with the terrific clue for DIAMOND, though his [Pirates’ milieu] was modified to [Pirates’ place]. He’s also the source of [Trademark Isaac Asimov accessory] for BOLO TIE, [Burn the midnight oil, e.g.] for IDIOM, and [Business reply card, e.g.] for INSERT. Alas, my favorite clue from Brad didn’t survive the final edit: his [Airport patter, briefly] for TSA was changed to [Org. conducting lots of X-rays].

You know how sometimes when you finally meet or work with people you admire you end up not admiring them all that much? I’m happy to report that my respect and admiration for Brad’s work has actually grown from our collaboration. He’s a true gentleman and a delightful colleague. If you enjoyed the puzzle half as much as I enjoyed working with Brad then I’m satisfied.

Good luck to those competing at the Indie 500! See you tomorrow for the review of Merl Reagle’s puzzle.

imageDoug Peterson’s Newsday crossword, “Saturday Stumper” – Derek’s write-up

This was not as bad as recent weeks, but still a toughie.  Having said that, GREAT puzzle.  Clues had me scratching my head.  But enjoyable nonetheless.  After all, if it was too easy, who would do it?

Some of my favorite entries and notes:

  • 1A [Spanish star] ASTRO – I thought that’s what this might be.  In actuality, the top left was nearly the last section I filled in.  ESTRELLA is also Spanish for star; I wonder what the difference is…
  • 15A [Chain whose ads feature cattle] CHICK-FIL-A – Some of my favorite commercials.  And some of my favorite fast food, too!
  • 26A [Tasman landfall of 1643] FIJI – I had —I, so I tried BALI, MAUI, etc.  Amazing how many islands are four letters and end in I…!
  • 31A [Two-time World Cup finals host]  MEXICO – France, Italy, Germany, and Brazil have also hosted twice.  Mexico hosted in 1970 and 1986, replacing original host Colombia after they withdrew for financial reasons. (There: you’ve learned something new today!)
  • 34a [His signature song is “Eight if Great”]  COUNT VON COUNT – I consider myself an EXPERT on all things Sesame Street, since it and I both debuted in 1969, and this one still stumped me.  It’s rare to see him called this.  I believe I remember him normally referred to as “The Count.”  What I really remember is the laugh: “Ha-ha-ha-ha-(thunder clap)-ha-ha!”
  • 57A [Vital] ENERGETIC – Great misdirection clue.
  • 8D [Volume specification] – OCTAVO – Someone will have to explain this one to me.  Musical reference?  Dictionary says the size of a piece of paper; is that really “volume?”
  • 12D Plant reputed to repel insects] FLEAWORT – This also in the learn-something-new-everyday category.  With minimal letters, I had ALOE VERA in there.  It seems to do everything else, so I took a shot…
  • 15D [Lapidary meas.] CTS – A lapidary is a stonecutter.  CTS short for carats.
  • 29D [They’re burned by pirates] BOOTLEG CDS – My favorite clue/entry in the puzzle.  Awesome!
  • 31D [Mickey’s Pluto, officially]  MUTT – Not a Disney fan, never have been.  Officially according to what, I wonder.
  • 35D [Over-the-line call] OFFSIDES – First entry filled in.  It’s sports, what can I say? :-)
  • 44D [Noun that becomes a verb by adding an “s” at the end] POSSES – Probably my second favorite clue/entry.  Misleading because you don’t think it would be a plural

All in all, joyful anguish.  But a terrific puzzle.  I rate it 4.75 stars!

imageBarry C. Silk’s LA Times crossword – Derek’s write-up

More splendid agony.  Tough puzzle once again.  Middle left and middle right were finished last.  Plenty of a-ha moments and great cluing.  My favorites, and other notes:

  • 1A [Org. whose website has a Track & Manage option] USPS – BOO! (I work for UPS!) I’ll give a shout out to my sister, who is a postmaster!
  • 21A [Some Buffalo wings] SABRES – Probably my favorite clue in the puzzle. Had me stumped for a while, then elicited a wry chuckle.  Probably have seen this clued this way before, but if I have, its been a LONG time.  Awesome.
  • 25A [Assigning responsibility by committee, in modern lingo]  BLAMESTORMING  – This one is definitely in the learn-something-new-everyday category.  Great word! I’ll have to find a way to use it in a sentence…
  • 40A [Where Langley is] FAIRFAX COUNTY – Another great clue.  My first though was NORTH or SOUTH VIRGINIA, which fits! As the letters starting filling in, another nice a-ha moment with this answer.
  • 53A [Two-time winner of the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar]  MARIO PUZO – As expected, for Godfather and Godfather II.  I read Omerta, but not the Godfather books.  Great writer.
  • 9D [Zinc compound] CALAMINE LOTION – I’m thinking this would be something else, like a chemical name or a metallic alloy.  Used this a lot to survive the six million mosquito bites I suffered growing up!
  • 15D [Many wallets contain one] DRIVER’S LICENSE – EMERGENCY CONDOM didn’t fit…
  • 22D [1998 Masters champion]  O’MEARA – As in Mark O’Meara.  I’m sure constructors leapt for joy when he won.  Is he or is he not becoming a crossword staple??
  • 27D [Engine protector] ANTIFREEZE – Thinking of an engine warmer of some sort.  Nice clue.
  • 28D [Slangy event suffix] ORAMA – This identical clue/entry appears in this week’s WSJ crossword.  
  • 33D [Home to Paris] TROY – GREAT clue.  MAISON of course didn’t fit, but once it was filled in, another delicious a-ha moment.
  • 41D [Nissan whose last model year is 2015]  XTERRA – It IS 2015, but you don’t see these as much on the road.  They will live on forever in crosswords!
  • 48D [Allen’s successor] PAAR – Always nice to see either of my names in a puzzle!  “Cousin” Steve hosted The Tonight Show, of course, before Jack PAAR.  This is before my time, so I’m NOT showing my age, just my vast breadth of knowledge! :-)

A solid 4.5 stars.  Loved this puzzle

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35 Responses to Saturday, May 30, 2015

  1. huda says:

    NYT: Great puzzle- Very seamless. Amazing that two people worked on it. And I loved hearing the back story. It’s surprising to me that you guys were able to build on existing pieces without dismantling anything. DONT ERASE was taken seriously! AT ANY RATE, it worked out beautifully.

    I had no idea what Asimov’s trademark was. BifOcals fit where BOLOTIE belonged… The glasses are the first thing I notice in his photos, FRAMED by the muttonchops.

    More please.

  2. Avg Solvr says:

    Thanks to Martin for linking to the audio pronunciations yesterday. Maybe it’s a regional thing but I’ve never heard tour sound like anything other than four. I tried the four-door/four-tour thing and nada. lol

    Found the NYT a bit easy for a Saturday (knew a bunch of the references) but fun and pretty colorful. LAT was more of a challenge. Off to be puzzled by The Stumper.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      As for “tournament,” I pronounce that “turn-uh-mint” (schwa in last syllable) and it blew my mind in “Wordplay” to hear Ellen say “too-er-nuh-mint.”

      • Avg Solvr says:

        I have heard “tournament” pronounced with an “er” sound here and there but never “tour.”

  3. Gail says:

    I’m not the caliber of solver of most of you who follow this blog – it took me 26+ minutes. But I loved this puzzle. At first pass, I got very few answers, but I persevered and managed to complete it without any Googling. Just right on the difficulty scale and lots of head slaps when the answers manifested themselves.

    • Evad says:

      Gail, don’t assume all readers (and even posters) on this blog are of Amy’s caliber–my time on this was a shade over 20 minutes as well, but loved every minute of it. [Noted employee of Slate] has got to be one of my favorite clues ever!

      And thanks to Sam for his “behind-the-scenes” commentary. Nice job all around.

      • huda says:

        Yeah, I’m definitely a slow poke. And I cheat on an as needed basis. I’m convinced that this is good for my mental health. I live in a competitive world and it’s good to have something I do that I’m decidedly mediocre at but that I still enjoy.

      • Gail says:

        Thanks for the encouragement! ;-)

    • Martin from C. says:

      Only 26 minutes? Hat’s off to you.

  4. Animalheart says:

    I concur with everything that’s been said about the NYT. Fascinating to hear how the sausages are made. And I’m with Evad on the clue for 9D. I laughed aloud.

  5. David L says:

    Very nice NYT. The DUXELLES/ACEAWARD cross was a guess, but no other letter seems plausible.

    As a non-consumer of ice-cream (it upsets my poor tummy) I don’t understand TWISTS — are they decorative thingies you add to your ice-cream or a name for the scoops themselves?

    Stumper: ‘volume’ means a published book, and OCTAVO specifies the page size — hence ‘volume specification.’

  6. Molson says:

    “Noted employee of Slate” is my favorite clue/answer combo so far this year.

  7. Gareth says:

    Even if you didn’t co-construct it, that was still one of the easiest Saturdays in living memory: almost no difficult answers and a grid design that is open, flowing and has no daunting spots with no short ins. But excellent clues and answers, particularly the time clecho!

  8. sbmanion says:

    I used to be in the 15-20 minute range for Fridays and Saturdays. For the past year, I have not been solving nearly as many puzzles and most weeks only do the Fri. and Sat. NYT puzzles. My times have slipped almost 10 minutes–it now takes me 25-30 minutes. My one stubborn conceit is that I do not “cheat,” although sometimes I probably should as some puzzles take me north of an hour.

    I thought this was a great puzzle. I had difficulty everywhere except the NE. I also thought SLATE was a brilliant clue. I can’t believe how long it took me to see Bertrand RUSSELL.


  9. Greg says:

    I’m definitely not a speed solver, but I am doggedly persistent. Sometimes (like today and yesterday) a Saturday or Friday will go smoothly and quickly. But other times, it’s a major slog, with entire quadrants distressingly blank.

    But the bizarre, wondrous “walk-away-and-try-again-later” process always seems to ultimately work — even if the puzzle isn’t completed until late in the evening.

  10. bob says:

    Where’s the review of Silk’s LAT abomination. Gave up after 45 min. without even one answer. Give me a break!

    • Norm says:

      Don’t understand the negativity. I thought it was a dandy little puzzle. Of course, it might have helped that I lived in FAIRFAX COUNTY (Fairfax, actually) as a young boy years ago when it still had lots of woods and lots of poison ivy, so I spent lots of time coated in CALAMINE LOTION. Maybe that will help you get started.

    • Gary R says:

      Mr. Silk’s puzzles routinely take me longer than normal to solve, as it often takes me a while to get on his “wavelength.” I find that his cluing is often more subtle than other constructors but, in the end, most everything makes sense – as it did with this puzzle.

      Bob, if you seriously had no answers after 45 minutes, it may be that you just need more practice on more accessible puzzles – maybe USA Today or Monday/Tuesday NYTimes.

      There were a couple of clues in today’s LAT that I didn’t care for: 14-A just doesn’t work for me – even though I was thinking in terms of the right meaning of “copper,” and the answer for 47-D should really be TEED “UP” or TEED “OFF.” BLAMESTORMING was new to me, but it’s kind of cute. Anyway, nothing here that I would consider an abomination.

      • Papa John says:

        I’m with you, Gary, even with the nits you mention. I got a lot more satisfaction completing the LAT than I did today’s NYT. It was a tough, juicy puzzle. Is this a new trend? Iused to think of LAT puzzles more as mental masturbation that real challenges. I think that’s changing or I’m getting dumber.

        • Derek Allen says:

          LAT post is up. Sorry, guys. Busy at crossword tournament today. I thought I had all my posting duties done. I actually liked the puzzle a lot, as the above comments show.

      • Martin from C. says:

        Gary R,

        I had a similar solving experience. I liked the puzzle once completed. Every letter was used except the “J,” and I liked BLAMESTORMING (but not the cluing for it), FOMENT, (suffix) -ORAMA, RAINIEST, DEKE, and others. There was an opaqueness to the cluing that reminded me of the Saturday NY Times puzzle, but with less playfulness. Nit: I didn’t like 53D MPG for [Odometer stat.]. For me, an odometer has always been strictly for measuring total and trip mileage.

  11. Papa John says:

    Question: Do the laudatory comments about NTY’s 9D “Noted employee of Slate” FLINTSTONE indicate the state of the intelligentsia of our country or, at least, those participating in crossword blogs? I had to Google Slate/Flintstone to learn it refers to a TV cartoon show. I must admit it was way over my head, as are many of the TV references from times past, especially children’s programs. When I was young enough to watch and appreciate them, I wasn’t allowed – no Saturday cartoons for our family. I’ve never seen a full episode of Sesame Street, in fact. Should I feel deprived? I’m also at a cruciverbal disadvantage because I was without a TV throughout the entire decade of the ‘80’s.

    Did I really miss all that much? Prior to that, the four channels, ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS didn’t have a lot to offer, other than the occasional PBS show of merit or the documentation of some notable event, like the moon landing or the horrors of Viet Nam. It seems a shame to me that television isn’t being used to its full advantage as one of the most potent teaching platforms available. That potency is made manifest by so many here who still remember such cartoon trivia from more than a half century ago.

    Pop culture acumen and its celebration is best expressed by the works of Jeff Koons, following in the footsteps of Andy Warhol and others of that ilk. Ask pannonica what she thinks of that state of affairs…

    • ArtLvr says:

      Sympathizing with Papa John, though I don’t go to movies much, by choice, never read comics ditto, and certainly have no interest in in so-called popular music. Too many such touches make for a slog, but I’m still delighted when something new crops up like those Acorn Woodpeckers! Like Huda, I find the daily challenges fun, even if I’m slow.

      • Norm says:

        Flintstones were also a (mediocre) movie in the 90’s, so I don’t think you can plead your childhood on that one. (Speaking as one who watched it religiously as a child.) I try to skim the Datebook (movies, etc.) section of our daily rag to give me a shot at current culture references. With BEQ, I have to hope the crosses can let me infer the answers, since he invokes the most obscure (to me, at least) pop/whatever icons imaginable.

      • Papa John says:

        ARtLvr: My mother-in-law has a sawn-out section of an Acorn Woodpecker’s larder on display in her back yard. I carved a wooden model of one for her that she attached to the log. Distinct animal behavior like this always causes me to ask, “Why don’t all woodpeckers do the same thing?”

    • Gary R says:

      I think the laudatory comments are based on the misdirection in the clue. In this era, the obvious “employee of Slate” is someone who works for Slate magazine. To have the answer turn out to be a character from a (fairly popular) 60’s cartoon show is surprising and to some degree (at least if you’re familiar with the TV show) entertaining. I don’t think any of the commenters was advocating for The Flintstones as essential cultural knowledge.

      • Papa John says:

        I know exactly what you’re saying, Gary, and I don’t disagree. However, Sam, Brad and Will all seem to deem it essential knowledge, at least in the cruciverb world.

  12. Avg Solvr says:

    “This was not as bad as recent weeks, but still a toughie.” Besides being very tough to begin with, The Stumper’s references are usually unknown to me which makes the struggle a brutal one.

  13. Bob says:

    What’s ASL mean as ‘a class where students raise their hands’? Anybody know?


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