3.23.2009

MONDAY, March 23, 2009 — Pancho Harrison


THEME: Numerical prefixes — three theme answers begin with UNI-, BI-, and TRI-, respectively


Hello and welcome to "L.A. Crossword Confidential," a daily blog about the L.A. Times crossword puzzle. My name is Rex Parker and I've been writing a daily blog about the NY Times crossword puzzle ("Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle") since October 2006. There are now at least five (!?) daily blogs dedicated to discussing the NYT puzzle, but only one, "Diary of a Crossword Fiend," ever discusses the LAT puzzle, and then only briefly. So in the interest of spreading the puzzle infotainment around, and shining some light on one of the better puzzles in the country, my colleagues Orange and PuzzleGirl and I (I don't know if they're using their real names yet, so I'll just call them by their online monikers for now) have started this blog. You'll get the solution (a completed grid), commentary on the content and quality of the puzzle, and (from time to time) tips on becoming a better solver. We'll also have a regular feature called "Crosswordese 101," where we'll draw attention to the frequently recurring 3- and 4-letter words that every constant solver needs to know. The whole blog will likely feel pretty improvisational for a while, but should take some kind of definitive, regular shape as it evolves.

You are encouraged to discuss the puzzle with us (and others) in the Comments section (just click "Comments" at the bottom of the write-up). While our posts will be addressed to solvers of all skill levels, we're particularly interested in helping novice and aspiring solvers develop their appreciation and understanding of crosswords. We're hoping a community grows up around this blog as it has around our other ones. So here we go ...

Crosswordese 101: Wow. So much great stuff to choose from. I guess, given this grid, I'd have to start with ELSA (36D: "Born Free" lioness). The lioness clue is ELSA's most common incarnation, though there's an astonishing number of other ELSAs out there that editors can throw at you later in the week (when the puzzles get more difficult): [Designer Schiaparelli], ["Lohengrin" lass], [Socialite Maxwell], etc. The main goal with the lioness is not to get her confused with the lady who requested "As Time Goes By" in "Casablanca": ILSA. I confused ELSA and ILSA for years and still occasionally have to pause for a second to remember which is which. ILSA just sounds more animal to me, for some reason. I have similar trouble with AXEL/AXLE, but more on that another time.

On to Pancho's puzzle — early-week puzzles always have themes. Sometimes they are very clever, and sometimes they are just a very basic organizing principle for the puzzle's longer answers. Today's falls under the latter category, but on a Monday, frankly, this isn't a bad thing. Themes are important, and clever ones are entertaining, but if the rest of the fill in the grid isn't solid and vibrant, or if your theme is overly cutesy to the point where it hurts my teeth or strains my tolerance for the bendiness of the English language, that's not good. Sometimes being straightforward and inoffensive is a good bet, and today's UNI- BI- TRI- progression succeeds on that level.

Theme answers:
  • 20A: All-in-one entertainment gadget (UNIversal remote)
  • 38A: Pact between two countries (BIlateral treaty)
  • 57A: Geometric solid with five faces, ironically (TRIangular prism)
The puzzle has a lot of crosswordese — again, this is the fill that is ultra common and often unavoidable, but, aesthetically, less than optimal. In a grid with primarily 3-to-5-letter words, a certain amount of crosswordese is inevitable, but I admire constructors that can 'zazz up the dull little 4x4 corners of the puzzle with something unexpected or interesting every once in a while. I tend to like fill that's colloquial and/or contemporary and/or sports-related, so CINCY was pleasing (54D: Home of the NFL's Bengals). STYX (68A: Netherworld river) flowing into TENOR SAX is pretty nice. Besides TENOR SAX, the long Downs are all pretty bland, though ANIMATED is more than redeemed by its juxtaposition with BEAVIS (4D: "_____ and Butt-head": MTV cartoon), a title character from Mike Judge's first big ANIMATED TV hit (the second was "King of the Hill"). Here's some STYX for you:


["... my brain IBM"]

Despite finishing this in just a shade over three minutes, I had some mis-steps. I had SCOUR for SCRUB (1D: Clean using elbow grease). I'm pretty sure I've seen EROO (16A: Suffix with switch) spelled AROO in the past, but maybe I'm thinking of KANGA; anyhow, I left the first letter there blank and waited for the cross. Nothing else here provided any real resistance, though I can imagine people tripping all over "ELENI" (2D: 1985 Malkovich film), which I have only ever encountered in crosswords. Crosswords keep telling me that "ELENI" is both a book and a film, but thus far, first-hand experience of those phenomena has eluded me.

Anything else?:
  • 46D: Wolf Man player Chaney (Lon) — I thought this was LON Chaney, Jr. Hey, it is. Leaving the "Jr." out is legal, but feels wrong, especially since his father was an actor in horror films too.
  • 45A: Blue _____: Duke University team (Devils) — they smashed the school where I teach in the opening round of the NCAA tourney. My brackets are still holding up, but barely. I've got Kansas, Missouri, Gonzaga, and Pitt in the Final Four. I'm beginning to wonder what I was thinking / smoking.
  • 23A: Photo shoot bathing suit (bikini) — first, I like that this clue rhymes. Second, I like the "K." I always like the "K" — it's my favorite letter. But all kinds of bathing suits are the subjects of photo shoots, not just BIKINIs. I'm not sure "photo shoot" is BIKINI-specific enough, but it's hard to argue. I mean ... the rhyming. It's adorable, really.
I'll be back on Fridays and alternate Wednesdays. I think that's the schedule. PuzzleGirl tomorrow.

Everything Else — 1A: Belgrade native (SERB); 5A: Unmarried woman's title (MISS); 9A: Try out (TEST); 13A: Crime scene find (CLUE); 14A: Pleasant scent (AROMA); 17A: 2000s sitcom starring a country singer (REBA); 18A: Ignited again (RELIT); 19A: Auth. unknown (ANON); 24A: Coin of the __: legal currency (REALM); 25A: Mt. Rushmore's state (S. DAK.); 27A: Intelligence, slangily (SMARTS); 31A: In the past (AGO); 34A: Colorful quartz (AGATE); 37A: Durable wood (TEAK); 42A: "__ Almighty": 2007 Steve Carell film (EVAN); 43A: Where sailors go (TO SEA); 44A: Director Spike or Ang (LEE); 48A: Part of A.D. (ANNO); 50A: Frames of mind (MOODS); 53A: Pound's 16 (OUNCES); 61A: Puniest pup (RUNT); 62A: Swarming pests (GNATS); 63A: Opposed to (ANTI); 64A: Advantage (EDGE); 65A: Busybody (YENTA); 66A: Exam for future Drs. (MCAT); 67A: Bird feeder food (SEED); 69A: Combustible funeral heap (PYRE); 3D: See 10-Down (RUBIK); 5D: Ceremony at an altar (MARRIAGE); 6D: Angers (IRES); 7D: Alternative energy type (SOLAR); 8D: Show one's pearly whites (SMILE); 9D: Fellow Dodger, e.g. (TEAMMATE); 10D: With 3-Down, inventor of a puzzling cube (ERNO); 11D: Chimney buildup (SOOT); 12D: Muscle quality (TONE); 15D: Gillette razors (ATRAS); 21D: Be over by (END AT); 22D: Nightmare street of film (ELM); 26D: Go-__: small racer (KART); 28D: Genuine (REAL); 29D: Westminster art gallery (TATE); 30D: Terrier named for a Scottish isle (SKYE); 31D: Still in the sack (ABED); 32D: Donate (GIVE); 33D: Patron saint of Norway (OLAV); 35D: Chinese "way" (TAO); 39D: Like many Disney films (ANIMATED); 40D: Bill Clinton's instrument (TENOR SAX); 41D: Incurred, as debts (RAN UP); 47D: Waterlogged (SOGGY); 49D: Freeway entrance (ON-RAMP); 51D: Saharan hills (DUNES); 52D: Viewpoint (SLANT); 55D: To be, in Tijuana (ESTAR); 56D: Clobber, in the Bible (SMITE); 57D: Uno plus dos (TRES); 58D: Discourteous (RUDE); 59D: "Picnic" Pulitzer winner (INGE); 60D: ABA member (ATTY.).

32 comments:

Ladel said...

What a creative idea, wish you guys had been around when I was first learning the basics, I would have been able to get on to Wed puzzles a lot quicker. Wishing you all great success and the beginning of a new vibrant blogging community.

Anonymous said...

Nice commentary, Rex!
Lon Chaney without the 'Jr.' is more than okay. On the poster you pictured, that's just how he was billed.
Maybe his dad died by then.
I'm very glad to see this new blog --- hope it fares well.
--SaminMiam

Karen said...

I think it's buckAROO and switchEROO; I just realized this year that I confuse these two easily.

Thanks for the links; I hadn't seen the applet for the LAT before, just the acrosslite. And I think that more crossword blogs are a good thing.

jeff in chicago said...

Yes, just what I need. More puzzle talk in my day! But seriously, this should be fun. I'll do my best to add an occasional intelligent comment.

Threw in DEMONS for DEVILS briefly, which is odd, because my favorite running gear has Blue Devils on it! (Oddly, it's not Duke, but a drum corps from the SF area of CA, but I still connect it with Duke all the time.)

I liked that we got MCAT today instead of the more common LSAT.

Bring it on, Orange, PG and Rex!

Sandy said...

The "bi" in bikini muddied the theme for me.

WestCoastCrosscan said...

Nice to see the West Coast get some love at last. Best of luck on your new blog.

chefbea said...

Glad to have a blog for the LA times puzzle. Its in our connecticut paper everyday. So now I'll have two blogs to visit.

Good luck Rex, Puzzle Girl and Orange.

Oh one question - any rules about beets in this blog?

chefbea said...

Why is the time wrong? three hours behind.

Rex Parker said...

[waiting for chefbea to figure it out ... waiting ...]

Greene said...

Congrats on the new blog you guys! Now I have twice as many reasons to stay off task at work! I could have really used this about a year ago when I really seriously started doing crosswords. I still have a little trouble with late week LA Times, so I'm looking forward to the help I know I'll find here.

Oh...by the way, when do you guys find time to sleep?

chefbea said...

got it!!!!!! LA time ... doh

SoWal Beach Bum said...

Yay! Another fun crossword blog. Plus incentive to do another puzzle every day. Plus ALSO not just more Rex & Orange, but more Puzzle Girl--a very good thing. Best wishes on your new enterprise, folks. Cheers/

Orange said...

Chefbea, beets are strictly banned unless the word actually appears within the crossword being discussed.

Sandy, you might like this post about bikini/monokini/tankini/skirtini/Burqini terminology. Although -kini converted itself into a suffix, the bi- in bikini has no etymological connection to "two."

Ben said...

Rex - I read your NYT blog everyday. Great idea to blog on the LAT puzzle! I'm still a novice crossworder with "Wednesday-level" skills. I enjoy reading your daliy thoughts and hints. Good luck and keep it up!

Sandy said...

Orange, I have to buy a bathing suit sometime in the next two weeks. I've been dreading the process, but that burquini may be the answer. That fabric has an SPF rating, right?

I should have known that bikini was not derived from latin, being from the south pacific and all.

Also, how often do you have those moments when a same-day/different newspaper puzzle has the same clue or answer. Today's Newsday puzzle, buried in the classified section of our local paper, had bacon STRIP. I'm not sure it is important, but it always makes me go "huh." I guess there are a limited number of words in the world.

santafefran said...

Glad you are blogging this puzzle. Gives me something else to be addicted to and I am always interested in more puzzle solving info.

the redanman said...
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mac said...

Congratulations on the new blog, PuzzleGirl, Orange and Rex. I do the LAT puzzle every day online, and it's wonderful to be able to check in with the three of you.
I guess I will have to trim my day job.....

I like the LAT puzzle, it often feels a little easy, but it's never boring or too pop-culturish.

Good luck on the new site!

toothdoc said...

Ditto the other comments - more stuff to fill my day between patients :) I've been on Rex's blog for about a year (mostly as a lurker) so I am looking forward to a little more basic information to increase my skills.

Anonymous said...

Why no place to make a contribution?

Orange said...

Dear Anonymous,

What? Already people want to throw money at us? Hooray! I'm always happy to receive Amazon gift certificates via e-mail, and Rex has his tip jar over at the Rex/NYT blog. I don't know how to reward PuzzleGirl, alas.

Sincerely,

Orange

Anne said...

Congratulations Rex, Orange, PuzzleGirl, this looks great and SO helpful. I usually post at NYT and just got the chance to come take a look.

Badir said...

Yeah, I've felt for a while that the LA Times doesn't get enough love, and with the Sun gone, there's a hole that was just begging to be filled. Thanks for filling it guys! Besides, even though my NY Times times have been pretty consistent for the past couple of months, in the past few weeks, I've had a huge improvement in my LA Times times. Last Monday I took 15 seconds off my best time with a 4:41, and today I blew myself away with a 3:53!

Rex Parker said...

Pancho Harrison is back as constructor of today's (i.e. tomorrow's) NYT puzzle. Pancho II: Pancho's Revenge.

rp

Dan said...

Congrats and yay! I'm particularly excited that PuzzleGirl will have a regular outlet. Rich Norris is a terrific editor, and this will help us all to better know his style. For example: No rebuses!

Sandy, your profile picture slays me.

*David* said...

Great deal, I felt so alone always commenting on the LAT on the Crossword Fiend blog at 11PM EST. Now I have a place to discuss MY hometown puzzle.

acme said...

wow, Pancho has a one-two punch...
(one-two panch?)
Congrats you guys for expanding your franchise!
:)

garble said...

Wow! It's great that this puzzle is getting some more attention. And 3 different and entertaining perspectives will be a treat. Yay to hearing more from Puzzlegirl/Angela (these split personalities are something else) too!

Gareth

Gareth Bain said...

Hmm... this website seems to have given me a split personality too... Ah i see there's a radio button doohickey to toggle: problem solved

the redanman said...
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tashakoa said...

Darn. And I was looking for some ones that had me stumped for the March 20th, 2009 issue. Looks very tempting to sneak a peak before I'm done with others though. :)

Orange said...

Tashakoa, try the 3/20 post at my other blog, Diary of a Crossword Fiend/