Sunday, June 11, 2017

Hex/Quigley tk (pannonica) 


LAT 8:32 (Amy) 


NYT 9:06 (joooooooooon)—paper 


WaPo 10:58 (Erin) 


Evan Birnholz’s Washington Post crossword, “Work Space” – Erin’s writeup

WaPo solution, 6/11/17

This week we have one-word literary works flanking longer phrases:

  • 23a. [Christmas character (Art Spiegelman)] MRS. CLAUS. MAUS is the graphic novel by Art Spiegelman.
  • 25a. [Rodgers and Hart song with the lyric “Why doesn’t the breeze delight me?” (Michael Crichton)] SPRING IS HERE / SPHERE
  • 37a. [Like some sunscreens (Lois Lowry)] SPRAYED ON / SON
  • 51a. [Common birthday party purchase (Chuck Palahniuk)] CHOCOLATE CAKE / CHOKE
  • 67a. [Extremely low point (Emma Donoghue)] ROCK BOTTOM / ROOM
  • 72a. [Certain scarab (Frank Herbert)] DUNG BEETLE / DUNE
  • 88a. [American service, perhaps (Elie Wiesel)] NONSTOP FLIGHT / NIGHT
  • 102a. [Munch masterpiece (Joyce Carol Oates)] THE SCREAM / THEM
  • 117a. [Longtime national correspondent for the Atlantic (Peter Benchley)] JAMES FALLOWS / JAWS
  • 120a. [Library shelf objects … or an alternate title to this puzzle] BOOKENDS. Lovely way to tie it all together.

Other fun bits:

  • 31a. [Diesel in many “Fast and Furious” vehicles] VIN. *chef’s kiss* to the wording of this clue.
  • 6d. [Recovery space, briefly] ICU. This clue does not do it, so I will save my mini-rant about how ICU is usually clued as the next stop after the OR even though the PACU is usually where patients go immediately after surgery.
  • 44a. [I can turn this god into a heavenly ram] ARESAdd the letter I to the ARES to get ARIES.
  • 70d. [Former clothing chain with a name similar to that of a toy chain] KIDS “R” US. My mother used to take me there to buy clothes. Babies “R” Us sells clothes, but it’s just not the same. The 80s threw up all over this commercial for the chain, and it’s glorious.

Charles M. Deber’s New York Times crossword, “Think Twice”—joon’s write-up

hello readers, joon here with the nyt, filling for amy who’s traveling this weekend. there’s no gentle way to say this, so i’ll say it ungently: i did not care for this sunday puzzle. with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the theme. the idea is that seven words in the fill each fit two of the seven categories expressed as the long theme answers. how so?

  • {7- and 112-Across} BASEBALL TERMS. those would be HOMER and DIAMOND.
  • {116-Across and 96-Down} HAND TOOLS. PLANE and SPADE.
  • {7- and 31-Across} FAMOUS POETS. HOMER and FROST.
  • {112-Across and 96-Down} CARD SUITS. ugh. not only is that not a term, it’s not even plausible as a phrase. believe me, i have played a lot of cards in my life, and i have never heard anybody say “card suits”. it’s just suits. anyway, SPADE and DIAMOND.
  • {93- and 116-Across} MEANS OF TRAVEL. TRAIN and PLANE.
  • {93-Across and 15-Down} BRIDAL THINGS. (that is also not a term, of course.) TRAIN and SHOWER.
  • {31-Across and 15-Down} WEATHER WORDS. (yeah, no.) FROST and SHOWER.

that’s the theme. it’s not the best theme i’ve ever seen, but neither is it the worst. surely any fan of crosswords can appreciate that terms or names in our beloved language can have multiple, often very disparate, meanings. that’s fine. i don’t love seeing non-phrases like CARD SUITS or BRIDAL THINGS shoehorned into the grid in service of such a theme, but the theme qua theme is fine.

where the puzzle really lost me was the fill. i am on record as saying it’s unfair to pick out the two or three worst fill entries in a sunday-sized puzzle and carp about them, because sunday puzzles are just so big (and difficult to fill) that compromises are basically inevitable. but there are limits, and in today’s puzzle, i could easily pick out my 20 or 30 least favorite answers. they span every category of undesirable fill answer! don’t believe me, just watch:

  • partials. boy, there were lots of these: DRI, A LIE, HE’S A, DES, BORA, SON OF, LIS, LAS.
  • awkward inflected forms. most of the worst offenders here are plurals of things that you just wouldn’t talk about in the plural in normal conversation, including plural proper names: OMEGAS, CIAOS, NADIRS (a plural superlative makes very little sense if you think about it), WOOLENS, and plural names AGEES and BOS. but we also have some verbing of words that i don’t think i’ve ever seen used as a verb (SUDSES and FLEETED), plus the random -er REARER.
  • multi-word phrases without dictionary nature. in addition to the theme answers, we have GO FAST, NIP AT, and ALLOW IN, none of which have any kind of special meaning beyond combining the meanings of the two individual words in the phrase.
  • technical obscurities. OLEATE; DRIVE ROD? i mean, sure. it’s probably a thing but not a thing that is interesting or familiar. i’ll add RADS here, even though i have a soft spot for physics terminology, because i suspect i’m not in the majority in that regard.
  • foreign words that typical educated anglophones have no particular reason to know. ILE and OTROS, and a few others already mentioned that were clued as geographic partials.
  • abbreviations of words. i don’t mind familiar acronyms (VFW is in the grid and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that entry), but i’m looking askance at LIC(ense) and HEB(rew). LICENSE or HEBREW would be great fill answers, but you have to be doing some very particular business to make use of those abbreviations.
  • prefixes/suffixes. i think there might have been only one prefix, AURI-, but ouch, that one is not pretty. ADE is clued as a standalone word even though it’s really only a suffix anywhere outside of a crossword puzzle. ditto FEST, a less common offender than ADE but still, definitely a combining form masquerading as a full word.
  • hoary crosswordese. everybody has their own ideas about what constitutes crosswordese, and i’m not going to try to convince anybody else. but i’ll just say that i’ve seen answers like IN ON and ESSENES and TEHEE (which should arguably be a variant spelling, as TEE-HEE is the only listing in my dictionary) and ESSO and ATRA a few too many times for them to hold my interest. that said, there’s nothing especially wrong with any of them (except TEHEE), and if those were the worst answers, i wouldn’t be here complaining about the fill. but coming on top of so much other dreck, they’re not really helping, either.

stuff i liked: EYE ROLL. the mythological DAMON, friend of pythias.

i was basically on permanent frowny-face from the start of my solve to the finish, so my rating is, let’s say, 2.2.

James Sajdak’s Los Angeles Times crossword, “Getting Old”—Amy’s write-up

LA Times crossword solution, 6 11 17 “Getting Old”

Well, I can echo many of Joon’s remarks on the NYT fill for this puzzle, which lost me in the 1-Across corner with intersecting Latin crosswordese and never won me back. More on that after the theme description. Theme adds an AGE to various words in (reasonably) familiar phrases to create fake phrases clued accordingly. BEAVER DAMAGE made from “beaver dam,” no problem. The first themer, though, adds AGE to “mess of greens” to make MESSAGE OF GREENS, which is an awkward result based on a phrase I’ve never seen. What’s a “mess of greens”? ENTRY RAMPAGE was dry, but CLERICAL GARBAGE kinda amused me. STOP SHORTAGE, MASSAGE MEDIA, and CLASSIFIED ADAGE all had familiar base phrases but the +AGE results weren’t funny.

The disappointing fill that detracted from the puzzle’s entertainment value for me included IN ESSE crossing ISMS ENSE SASE right off the bat. OATER, the OH GEE/OH GOD overlap, partial A ON, PAREE, URAL, plural foreign abbrev SRTAS, ASST DA, EEN, BARA, ADES, ODEA, A-TWO, I DARE, RELOG, ERE WE, ENER, NSEC, AGUE … the Scowl-o-Meter triggers were peppered all throughout the grid.

8d. [UFO pilots], ALFS. Wait, the ’80s sitcom character ALF is not a generic term that you can pluralize. I think ALF was short for “alien life form,” but nobody says, “Oh, there’s a sci-fi movie about ALFs.” Boo.

2.2 stars from me.

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40 Responses to Sunday, June 11, 2017

  1. huda says:

    NYT: I gave it points for the theme which is intricate and interesting to contemplate. Weaving it must have been quite challenging for the constructor. But this is likely a case where the feat in the construction did not translate into the joy of the solution.

    I try to eliminate the word THINGS from my speech or writing. It strikes me as sloppy, like going out in public without brushing your hair. Definitely not the end of the world, but you can do better with a tiny bit of effort.

    But in a crossword, it might be good to “think twice” before shoving THINGS into your theme.

  2. Lise says:

    Loved the WaPo! Right away I filled in all the books (except CHOKE – I was only remembering Fight Club – sorry, Mr. Palahniuk). And nice job crossing SEAN and LENNON. Nice colorful review too!

    I liked the woven theme of the NYT – it kept me looking around for the next theme entry. But FLEETED, seriously. I suppose it’s a word. But seriously. EYE ROLL there.

    The repeated use of the word “thing” reminds me of my days teaching HS physics, when the English teachers had to remind me (repeatedly, unfortunately) to stop using that word! Ban it from my vocabulary! Thank you, English teachers everywhere, and keep trying.

    • Lorraine says:

      I, too, (tried) filling in all the books before doing anything else — I missed on Lois Lowry’s SON and Emma Donoghue’s ROOM. Doing the puzzle this way added an extra layer of fun (for me)!

      • Lise says:

        Me too! Also I thought the theme answers were excellent in their own right: THE SCREAM, ROCK BOTTOM, and the not-often-used DUNG BEETLE.

        I liked the NYT a little better than most, because I like twisted referential clues, probably because I solve on paper so I can sort of see the whole thing at once. However, I balked at REARER (even now, having trouble typing that!) and have not yet recovered from FLEETED. :-)

    • Lise says:

      Thank you, joon, and all of you, for the effort and thought that you put into your reviews. I always look forward to them.

  3. MattF says:

    Did not like NYT. ‘Referential’ clues are a bugaboo for me, and I simply don’t do them– so I was pretty much stuck with doing just the non-thematic part of the puzzle, and joon (above) explains the problems with that approach. I did, fwiw, manage to fill in the whole puzzle without deliberately filling in any of the theme entries. An achievement, I guess.

  4. Bruce N Morton says:

    I just couldn’t tolerate the NYT. It was interesting in some respects, as Joon’s superb write-up made clear, but isn’t solving a puzzle supposed to involve some enjoyment? This one didn’t for me.

    Deber has been around for a long time. My understanding is that he was a favorite of Eugene Maleska, but I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or not. I’m sure I must have seen some of his puzzles I enjoyed, but not this one.

  5. Bruce N Morton says:

    After reading some of the other comments, I probably should have edited the word “thing” out of this post. I prefer to avoid superfluous words too.

  6. David H says:

    On this week’s episode of “Best of Car Talk,” they listed some of their favorite country music song titles. My favorite: “I gave her my heart and a diamond and she clubbed me with a spade.” Hmmm, card suits plus acts of passion? Sometimes the best part of a puzzle is that it fits in with other stuff you’re thinking about.

  7. Christopher Smith says:

    Guess I enjoyed NYT more than most. Liked the paired referentials but perhaps they took up too much real estate for a meaty fill.

  8. Norm says:

    WaPo was very entertaining. I did not know four of the books and two of the authors, so it was not a snap, but, unlike the NYT [of which the less said, the better], it made for a fun 10 minutes.

  9. Christopher Smith says:

    Funny, apparently they bowdlerized the HORNY clue for the digital version I used, with the 2 Live Crew song (which itself is a scrap of dialogue from Full Metal Jacket) clued in print.

  10. Papa John says:

    The NYT was more fun than reading joon’s review — and, unlike the overly long review, I completed the puzzle. The thing is, incomplete sentences and lack of proper capitalization is tedious and — how can I say this “ungently”? — pretentious (e.e. cummings aside).

    • The irony of you complaining about pretentiousness while harping on about grammar and proper capitalization, though.

      • Papa John says:

        I’m glad somebody caught the irony.

      • joon says:

        i don’t find it especially ironic. what’s ironic is complaining about grammar while failing to match subject with verb.

        i have long ago made peace with the fact that my prose style is not for everybody. i stopped capitalizing while typing on a computer a couple decades ago, when i noticed that using multiple-key combinations (like shift + letter) was quite painful for me, especially given how much typing i was doing (and still do). i can’t claim it’s not a pretension, because it has long since evolved into one, but it was originally an entirely pragmatic decision.

        papa john, i’m glad, and a little envious, that you enjoyed the crossword! certainly my intent was also to enjoy it, as it always is when i sit down to do a puzzle.

      • David says:

        Thanks, Evan, for another lovely Sunday puzzle. I don’t know how you keep creating such treats every week. Perhaps the spirit of Merl is giving you inspiration ;-) ? Your work definitely makes up for the increasingly drab NY Times Sunday puzzle. Rex Parker and Joon both detail, accurately, what made today’s Times puzzle so awful. Your puzzle, in contrast, was great fun.

    • E.A. says:

      The NYT constructor got paid $1,200 to write this puzzle; joon, as far as I know, took $0 for the public service of writing it up. I can understand not enjoying the review, but to be so harshly negative about it, and in a manner that borders on ad hominem – “ungentle” is not the only u-n-g- adjective I would use to describe your comment.

      • Papa John says:

        >>what’s ironic is complaining about grammar while failing to match subject with verb.<<

        Here’s the thing, that was the irony.

        I'm glad to hear you understand my comments about no caps being pretentious. Keep on trucking…

        BTW, Rex Reed's review was way more ungentle than yours.

    • JohnH says:

      I don’t think Joon’s grammar was that bad at all, especially given that blogging is so informal these days, and I don’t read posts and comments in order to correct them. Most of the sentence fragments were effectively list item headers, which is appropriate. (A print publication would bold or italicize them, but still.)

      However, I’d much prefer conventional capitalization. It wouldn’t exist if it didn’t make things easier on readers, honest. (One can say the same about almost all matters of usage, as badly as pedanticism can obscure that insight.)

  11. Norm says:

    I was surprised at the review. I found it easier than most, but not worse or better than average. I wonder what Amy would say. She usually is spot on.

    • Papa John says:

      Deb Amlen’s review was positive. The NYT comments were divided. Rex Reed disliked it as much as joon.

      • Christopher Smith says:

        “Reed”? Freudian slip, meta commentary, or just an error?

      • Lorraine says:

        I would guess that Deb has to bend over backwards (sometimes) to be positive about puzzles published by the NYT, no?

      • Zef Wagner says:

        That’s actually a great comparison! Rex Reed hates all movies, and Rex Parker hates all crosswords. They’re both so critical that I can’t stand reading either one.

  12. Lorraine says:

    I’m squarely with Joon on this one. Not only do i hate excessive cross-references (which i’ll admit might just be my thing), the fill, dear God! SUDSES? FLEETED?

    And again like Joon, two of the theme answers had both my EYEs ROLLing — CARD SUITS?? BRIDAL THINGS?? i literally (and i truly mean this in the correct sense of the word) winced when i got that last one.

    I did enjoy the concept of the puzzle, and since I’m a pretty generous grader, I gave it 3 stars, but this is one of the few times (for me) when the negatives of a puzzle outweighed the positives.

  13. JohnH says:

    I hated the NYT, too. Once I caught on to the idea, of linking up words with double meaning to phrases with two examples, so that pairs didn’t coincide, I wanted to like it more. But it was just no fun at all to solve.

    I realize I hate cross-referenced answers, in part because they largely take both answers out of the solving process (at least until the very end). They almost might as well not be there. And connecting them is then mechanical and tedious.

    But this one offered another drawback. It put an added burden on the rest of the fill to make the puzzle interesting, but then it put such constraints on the grid that decent fill proved impossible. I, too, was put off by FLEETED and SUDSED in particular (and also by THINGS in a theme answer). I wouldn’t say that ILE put me off by being in a foreign language, as it’s familiar and an occasional French word is just fine. More that it’s used so often that it’s become crosswordese in a puzzle filled with such.

  14. Steve Manion. says:

    CARD SUITS didn’t bother me even though I have never used the term or heard it used. What did bother me was DIAMOND and SPADE. The suits themselves are DIAMONDS and SPADES, even though there would be numerous occasions to use the singular (I bid one spade, he led a spade, the river was a spade, etc.)

    I did not have an overall negative reaction to the puzzle.


  15. Patti says:

    LATimes: ‘mess of greens’; made me think of the song by Tony Joe White and his 1969 hit, “Polk Salad Annie.”

    Mess of greens: colloquial phrase for southern-style or Soul food dishes like collard greens or turnip greens.

    “Greens are any sort of cabbage in which the green leaves do not form a compact head….In the Southern states, a large quantity of greens to serve a family is commonly referred to as a “mess o’ greens.” The exact quantity that constitutes a “mess” varies with the size of the family.”
    From What’s Cooking America, https://whatscookingamerica.netl/Vegetables/CollardGreens.htm

    • hmj says:

      A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food is a well known book
      by Elizabeth Sanders Delwiche Engelhardt. And it’s obvious that Amy has never been any further south than San Diego.

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