Wednesday, October 18, 2017

AV Club 8:53 (Ben) 


LAT 4:05 (Gareth) 


NYT 3:20 (Jenni) 


WSJ untimed (Jim P) 


John Lithgow and Brendan Emmett Quigley’s New York Times crossword—Jenni’s write-up

Today we have the latest in the 75th anniversary series of constructor collaborations with crossword-loving celebrities. There are details of the construction on Wordplay, if you’d like the inside scoop.

Our theme is, fittingly, theatrical phrases wackily clued.

NYT 10/18/17, solution grid

  • 17a [Decision to go with drapes instead of blinds?] is the CURTAIN CALL.
  • 10d [Fly fisherman?] is a CAST PARTY.
  • 33d [Why one missed the coach?] would be because the STAGE LEFT.
  • 55a [Accountant’s shares in a company?] are SUMMER STOCK. An accountant adds things so she’s a SUMMER; I was looking for a plural to go with “shares,” so this seems a bit awkward, even though it’s legit.

Not a challenging puzzle; the theme was obvious from 17a, and the fill was fairly straightforward. I found the theme entertaining and enjoyed my three minutes and twenty seconds.

A few other things:

  • Lithgow on Lithgow: we start with 1a [TV’s “The Crown” or “Dexter”] for DRAMA and end with 63a [Outstanding Supporting ___] for ACTOR. John Lithgow has appeared in both shows and has won two Supporting Actor Oscars.
  • You don’t see 5d [Pioneering botanist] ASA GRAY very often. That same corner has crossword regulars MAT, ETA, and IOTAS, so it’s nice to have something different.
  • 28a [Slapstick specialty] gives us more showbiz lingo with SPIT TAKE, and then we have 50a [Cameo role, typically] for WALK ON.
  • I have fond memories of our high school productions of Gilbert and Sullivan, so 41d [Nanki-Poo’s pursuer in “The Mikado”] was a gimme for me. I didn’t play KATISHA, because I’m not a soprano….but it was fun.
  • 50d [Bowser’s warning] is not about the Sha Na Na singer; the answer is WOOF.

What I didn’t know before I did this puzzle: that painting on dry plaster is called SECCO.

To me, John Lithgow will always be Lori Singer’s dad in the original “Footloose.”

Samuel A. Donaldson’s Wall Street Journal crossword, “Quill Power” — Jim’s review

Theme: W sounds are changed to QU sounds. Quy? Quy not.

WSJ – Wed, 10.18.17 – “Quill Power” by Samuel A. Donaldson

  • 20a [Plainly visible mannerisms?] PUBLIC QUIRKS. Public works.
  • 27a [Every mineral on Earth?] QUARTZ AND ALL. “Warts and all.”
  • 44a [Bird hunter’s danger?] KILLER QUAILS. Killer whales. Very Pythonesque entry.
  • 52a [Thoroughly Putinesque?] QUITE RUSSIAN. White Russian, the drink, made with vodka, Kahlua, and heavy cream. I would hate to think that Putin is a typical Russian. I would not expect most Russians to be sinisterly megalomaniacal.

That’s two W’s and two WH’s changed to QU’s. Additional spelling changes in the thematic words occur three out of the four times. If you’re looking for consistency in spelling modifications, you won’t find it here.

Neither will you find it if you pronounce the H in “whale” and “white.” But I think most people don’t. From a pronunciation point of view the theme works fine.

A whatnot

What I would prefer is some sort of pretense for making the changes. Often, this comes in the title. But the title here is just another example of the change rather than an impetus for making it.

In the end, it works, but it’s less elegant than it could be.

Fill-wise, I like KUMQUAT, “IT’S A LIE!,” QUICHEOCCULT, and THE BIZ, but PREPARER and GLARE AT are rather dry for such long fill. I’m leaning toward liking WHATNOTS, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it in the plural and never where it meant [Knickknack shelves]. That’s a new definition to me.

Some oddities:

  • SEXPOT at 1a (clued as [Knockout]) is certainly an attention-getting way of leading off your puzzle, but it feels gratuitous and a quick way to turn-off anyone who’s had enough of bro-humor. It would be one thing if the term applied equally to men as it does to women, but no one ever refers to a man as a SEXPOT. So why go there? With all the “Me too”s we’re seeing on Facebook these days, we could do with a little less bro-ey innuendo and a little more compassion and understanding. Besides, the entry and clue are not synonymous. SEXPOT implies a promiscuous person whereas “knockout” means “gorgeous.”
  • GO GIRL!” at 10d (clued as [“You can do it, sister!”]) doesn’t seem as in-the-language as it would if it had its initial “YOU.” It feels like an attempt to undo the damage done by 1a, but it misses the target since it’s not the whole phrase.
  • The crossing of KETONE [Organic compound used in solvents] and ALDO [Shoe retailer in many malls] naticked me. I know ALDA, of course, and ALDI, the discount grocer, but the only ALDO I know is Gucci, and the shoe store has no relation to the fashion designer.

One nicety:

  • SAGAN at 25d gets clued [“The Dragons of Eden” author]. Talk of dragons made me think Anne McCaffrey, but she obviously didn’t fit. I didn’t know this book by SAGAN, but am happy to learn about it. It’s not a fictional fantasy, but a Pulitzer-winning discussion on how human intelligence evolved. Perhaps the title indicates how predators (represented as “dragons”) caused early man to evolve increased brain power in order to survive.

In the end, there’s a mixed bag in the fill, and while the theme is certainly workable and adequate, I wanted something to tie it all together.

Kameron Austin Collins’ AVCX, “AVCX Themeless #20” — Ben’s Review

The AVCX is still having some behind-the-scenes technical difficulties with getting delivery set up, but this week’s themeless from KAC is worth the wait.  It feels a little easier/slighter than past editions, but that could just be my improved skill with them.  Here’s some of my highlights, for those that have already solved the puzzle:

  • SPACE WASTE, AMEN TO THAT, NBA ALL-STAR, and PAAVO NURMI (which my brain pulled from the very dusty corner where the few sports trivia things I know are kept) were all lovely long entries anchoring the puzzle.
  • 30A‘s “Popular nonprofit media premium, often seen at the farmer’s market” as clue for NPR TOTE – if you’re not carrying your produce in either one of those or a New Yorker tote, it no longer counts as organic.
  • As a (former) Minnesotan, I do not remember ALPINE LACE as a subsidiary of Land O Lakes that makes Swiss cheese, but I will concur with Kameron that the name does sound Swiss.
  • As always, I dig KAC’s mix of “high” and “low” culture – in what other puzzle do you get ST ANNE, ALL EYEZ ON ME, OLIVIA POPE, ANGELA DAVIS, and DUANE Allman in the same grid (besides one of his puzzles in the NYT)?

4/5 stars.  This felt easier than a standard AVCX Themeless, but it felt just as consistent and clean.

Robin Stears’ LA Times crossword – Gareth’s write-up

LA Times

I am totally unfamiliar with the revealing entry, DOUBLETHEGUARDS. That said, it Googles well, and seems to be a pop cult cliche phrase that I have never noticed. It leads us to a typical crossword trope. Both parts of four two-part entries are completed by “___ GUARD”. First up is slangy RIGHTCOAST (vs. left coast and “fly-over country”); a RIGHTGUARD is a gridiron thing, I think, and the COASTGUARD is probably the least prestigious of America’s five service branches. COLORSAFE is functional; I’m not sure what a colour guard is, but Googling suggests it’s a military term; the other half is regular ole SAFEGUARD. The Swiss Guard and a generic bank guard are found in a SWISSBANK – with this being an entry that doesn’t stray very far in meaning between its three parts. PALACELIFE is something of a “green paint” answer (and this theme type is prone to them), but the Disney’s Aladdin clue pins it down quite well; a palace guard is another generic type of guard; while a lifeguard is found on the beach.

It can be tough to find many things to remark on in a mid-week LA Times. They have less envelope-pushing answers than say the NY Times, but also, for the most part, less hoary old entries. What can I find?

  • […associated with steaks], OMAHA. How so? Some sort of US business, it’s suggested by Google.
  • [Multiple choice choices], ABORC. Constructors, please delete this from your wordlist. It’s terribly contrived, and most multiple choice questions have four options anyway…
  • [Touch-related], TACTUAL. New to me, though not hard to grasp [hur] the meaning of. Raise your hands if you wanted either TACTILE or SENSUAL or both of them… From Collins Dictionary: “She had put on an emotional chastity belt which was every bit as tantalising to a man in love as a tactual appliance. Martin, Joy THE IMAGE OF LAURA“. OK then. We’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to imagine what a tactual appliance is without further context…

Rating withheld as not sure of DOUBLETHEGUARDS‘ legitimacy. Otherwise, mostly middle-of-the-road, as DOUBLE puzzles are wont to be.


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22 Responses to Wednesday, October 18, 2017

  1. Dr Fancypants says:

    The KATISHA/KEYES crossing was Natick-city for me. That was a black eye on an otherwise solid puzzle.

    • Art Shapiro says:

      I too. I have a passing familiarity with Gilbert & Sullivan, but apparently not passing enough.


    • David L says:

      I vaguely remembered KEYES — also, RATISHA, DATISHA etc didn’t seem likely.

      But I agree it’s a bad cross. Is this BEQ’s influence, I wonder? One thing I don’t care for in his puzzles is his excessive use of obscure or semi-obscure proper names.

      • anon says:

        If you read the construction commentary on Wordplay that was linked in the review, you’ll see that the KATISHA entry came from John Lithgow.

    • Snake911 says:

      Totally agree. Only put in the K because it seemed the best fit but I had no idea about either name.

  2. huda says:

    NYT: Lots of theme related entries. So much I didn’t know… but I could work around most of it. Though lots of errors along the way. My favorite, due to slight misreading of the clue:
    Life is (a) kind of A MESS…

  3. jim hale says:

    I’m not going to judge some peoples fascination with Gilbert and Sullivan but personally, it’s not my cup of tea. Couple of naticks for me, the one mentioned by Dr. Fancypants above and SPITTAKE/NAT.

  4. JohnH says:

    If anyone did and remembers the Saturday WSJ variety puzzle (Spell Weaving), I’m stuck on 38: No longer on the board.

  5. Norm says:

    I agree it was easy, but only to get 95 percent. The crossing of spittake and solid was tough. Cat fish and a Mikado character also required a guess. I guessed right in both cases, but a guess is a guess.

  6. William L says:

    AV Club: I am not getting the intent of MOVER for 37A [Figure in professional boxing?] even after much thought and taking into account the question mark in the clue.

    • Thomas says:

      A mover, in addition to driving your possessions to your new home, might also be responsible for boxing them up.

      • William L says:

        I got hung up on the ropes sparring with the professional boxing, never saw the Bekins truck that ran over me. Thanks to both for the clue.

    • pannonica says:

      You hire professional movers, they offer to pack your stuff up in boxes..

  7. Noam D. Elkies says:

    48D:SECCO = “dry” in Italian, corresponding to French “sec” which is familiar as a wine description. (There are also a couple of musical usages of “secco”; you might have run across recitativo secco.)

    The rest of the puzzle? Let’s just say it’s not either Lithgow’s or BEQ’s best work and leave it at that . . .


  8. Robin Morrissey says:

    WSJ – I always thought the whatnots were the miscellany on the shelves, not the shelves themselves. Learned something today.

  9. janie says:

    actually, mr. lithgow won emmys for his appearances in dexter and the crown. he’s been oscar-nominated twice, but has not yet taken home one of those.

    he also has a slew of other wins and noms for his film work. his stage work ain’t too shabby neither!


  10. Robin Stears says:

    Hi, all!

    Thanks for the nice words. This version and the version I submitted had several differences. Trust me, I would never, never use ABORC and it’s not even in my database. That was an editorial change and completely out of my hands.

    I’m sure other constructors will agree with me when I say that sometimes editors make changes that we don’t necessarily agree with. I’m also a copy-editor, and sometimes I make changes that my writers don’t agree with either. Overall, I think editors do what they think is best for the final product.

    But if I never see ABORC again, I would be so happy. :)

  11. austin says:

    it’s been years since i read it, but SAGAN’s Dragons of Eden is fascinating.

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