SATURDAY, September 19, 2009—Merle Baker

THEME: No theme today—Just a themeless Saturday puzzle

Well, this one was a little harder than last Saturday's but still easier than the Saturday L.A. Times crossword was six months ago. The New York Times Saturday puzzle may take 50% to 100% longer than this one, but hey, at least the tougher one's out there for those who want it, and those who are cutting their teeth on the themeless format have a more pliable puzzle to contend with here.

The word count (the total number of answers in the puzzle) is rather low: 64. The maximum for a themeless puzzle is customarily 72, and it becomes increasingly difficult to get interlocking fill to work out the lower the word count goes. If you're an all-star constructing deity like Patrick Berry, you crank out 64-worders without any compromises in the fill, but mere mortals usually have some uninspiring answers in such puzzles.

What do I mean? Well, look at the mini-theme (a mini-theme is a symmetric pair of related answers in a themeless puzzle). The 27D: Oscar winners' winnings are STATUETTES—that's eminently reasonable. But its partner is PRESENTEES (6D: Oscar winners, e.g.). Wha...? There are presenters, but does anyone ever call the award recipients PRESENTEES? This is ringing zero bells for me. There's an ugly abbreviation, SURG. (46A: OR activity). 35D: Royal office clues KINGSHIP, which is not a -ship word we see often (though it is indeed an inflected form listed under king in my dictionary).

A 64-worder tends to have less aggressive sparkle than 70- or 72-worders do. Nothing really zippy like a BAZOOKA JOE here, but the livelier answers include:
  • 20A: Like expensive fight seats (RINGSIDE). I do not like the hitting-people sports, personally, but RINGSIDE is a cool answer.
  • 40A: Winter Olympics contestants (SKI JUMPERS). Both the K and J are Scrabbly letters.
  • 54A: Small and unimportant, as a town (ONE-HORSE). The more modern equivalent is the one-stoplight town, but "one-horse" is here to stay.
  • 7D: Have a wild time (GO CRAZY).

  • 36D: Magic charm (MOJO). Mojo!

Crosswordese 101: There's a new twist on the seldom-welcome 32D: Playground retort, this time DOES SO. While each individual "playground retort" phrase doesn't exactly meet the usual loose criteria for what constitutes crosswordese, there are so many of them, and their primary purpose is to help a constructor finish up a section of the grid. From the Cruciverb.com database (database function available only to gold members), I gathered a partial list of the other "playground retorts" that have appeared in crosswords. You never know which one it's gonna be, so you have to work through the crossings to see if it's AM NOT, AM SO, ARE TOO, CAN SO, DID TOO, I DO TOO, IS NOT, or IS TOO—among others. What they all have in common is that they're two or three short words and the last word is NOT, SO, or TOO. Are you tired of these answers? If not, have no fear! You will be soon enough.

Everything Else — 1A: Speaker booster (PREAMP); 7A: Overcharged illegally (GOUGED); 13A: Western evergreen named for its eventual bark color (RED FIR); 14A: Theoretical, as profits (ON PAPER); 16A: Unending, in poetry (ETERNE); 17A: Based on medical observation instead of theory (CLINICAL); 19A: White sale items (LINENS); 21A: Bearded blossom (IRIS); 22A: Enthusiasm (ELAN); 24A: Chief Valhalla god (ODIN); 25A: Makes automatic (MECHANIZES); 28A: God, in Guadalajara (DIOS); 29A: "Don't move, Fido" (STAY); 30A: Adjective for a yellow bikini, in a 1960 #1 hit (TEENIE); 32A: More shadowy, as evening (DUSKIER); 36A: Slanders (MALIGNS); 37A: Punctual (ON TIME); 38A: Carry (TOTE); 39A: Eddie __, New York cop involved in the actual "French Connection" (EGAN); 47A: It might save your skin (ALOE); 48A: Mariner's heading (ALEE); 49A: Shoves off (SETS SAIL); 52A: Again and again? (THRICE); 55A: __ powder (TALCUM); 56A: Garden tool (TRIMMER); 57A: Plaza Hotel sprite (ELOISE); 58A: Divers' fishing implements (SPEARS); 59A: Classified (SORTED); 1D: It's before the main event, briefly (PRELIM); 2D: Hang it up, so to speak (RETIRE); 3D: Blissful (EDENIC); 4D: Anew (AFRESH); 5D: State where the Mississippi R. originates (MINN.); 8D: Modern way to shop (ONLINE); 9D: __ arms (UP IN); 10D: Turf controller (GANG); 11D: TV series opener (EPISODE I); 12D: Tough job for a beauty contest judge (DECIDING); 15D: Contact the harbor master from one's ship (RADIO IN); 18D: Camera parts (LENSES); 23D: Inventive sort? (LIAR); 26D: "Sure __ standing ..." (AS I'M); 31D: Na or Cl, e.g. (ELEM.); 33D: Salve (UNGUENT); 34D: Appetizers (STARTERS); 38D: Tractor attachments (TILLERS); 41D: Wilhelm's title in WWI Germany (KAISER); 42D: Sitting room (PARLOR); 43D: Draw out (ELICIT); 44D: Disqualify (oneself), as a judge (RECUSE); 45D: Appeared to be (SEEMED); 50D: A few (SOME); 51D: Weapons, in Latin (ARMA); 53D: Head light? (HALO).



For me, I thought this was a very quick-solver.

Had a few misdirections with WARMUP instead of PRELIM (1d) and HICKTOWN instead of ONEHORSE (54a). I know, the clue would never have a portion of the entry (ie. town).

My fave word: MOJO (36d).
My new word: ARMA (51d).
My unfave word: EPISODEI (11d).
I just don't like when a roman numeral "I" is used in place of ONE. I see that often for ACTI (Act One) and I always cringe.

I thought the same thing as Orange, the use of DOESSO (32d) opens up a whole new world for playground retorts. Not sure I like that.

And I noticed that although there wasn't a theme today, Merle Baker constructed a very nice symmetrical grid with PRESENTEES (5d) and STATUETTES (27d) both being Oscar related.

I'm an inventor and so I took mild offense at the use of "inventive sort" to describe a LIAR (23d).

7a GOUGED = "overcharged illegally" evoked a big haha from me when I thought about a trip out west that we took with the children. My older kid (the comedian type) referred to the Royal Gorge in Colorado as THE ROYAL GOUGE (because it was excessively expensive there).

All in all, I really enjoyed this puzzle albeit simple.

Eddie Q said...

Anyone remember the Golden Girls episode when Rose writes the song for Miami that icluded "Miami is nice so I'll say it thrice"? She tries to tell Dorothy that its a word, and she responds "so is interuteran but that doesn't mean it belongs in a song. That made me chuckle at THRICE. And even though its a word, that doesn't mean it belongs in a crossword puzzle.

Anyway... Kinda easy, but fun.

mac said...

I found it a fun puzzle, with some very nice medium-sized words, like unguent, ringside, clinical and kingship.

Because I took the Across-only route to start with, I typed in "take a powder", but that got quickly fixed.

I sometimes have a problem with this playground language since I didn't grow up here, but does so is odder than most of those term. I realize my son had to grow up without any American babytalk! Maybe that's why he spoke so well and so early, but how do I explain why we have to pull every word out of him now.....?

shrub5 said...

For STARTERS, I'd like to note that I thought this puzzle had a number of fresh answers and amusing clues. I especially liked turf controller (GANG), again and again (THRICE) and the small and unimportant ONEHORSE town. It's fun to unearth seldom seen words like RECUSE, UNGUENT and ETERNE.

I had one goof: ARME instead of ARMA because I failed to see I had misspelled SPEARS as SPEERS (d'oh). I'd call it a typo except I wasn't typing.

@Orange: Nice to see the photo of Chuck BERRY doing his "duck walk."

Parsan said...

Isn't again and again twice, and again and again and again THRICE?

PRESENTEES didn't sound right but the American Heritage says "person to whom something is given" and you can't argue with the dictionary.

I liked this puzzle and found it the most interesting and challenging of the week, but the difficulty was still on the very low side.

DataGeek said...

I enjoyed the puzzle - just a tad easier than my highest level of difficulty - not too frustrating, not too easy. Loved UNGUENT as well - wanted OINTMENT, but it just wouldn't fit even though I had the 'ENT' ready and waiting.

I always look forward to the CW 101 daily, and thought for sure it would be ELAN - I even checked the listing to see if it was already in there. Classic crosswordese, IMO. I AM TOO in the club of disliking those playground retorts.

Thanks, Orange, as always for a fun write-up! I love your MOJO!

Parsan said...

Oh yes, I too have a story about GOUGED. Taking a taxi in Rome from the train station to our hotel, we had a 10 minute ride and a $28 (Am. money) fee. As the cab drove away we could see the train station about 1/4 mile away.

DataGeek said...

Oh, I see ALEE, ALOE and HALO in the puzzle today - also good CW101 candidates. Ah well, you can't do them all at once! Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

A potentially good puzzle spoiled by stuff like 'surg' and 'presentees'. Too bad as some of the fill was lively, but it was overshadowed by some really dreadful stuff.

In terms of difficulty, the LAT has really gone downhill as of late.

Anonymous said...

Good fun! I liked it very much.

I think I'll quit reading these blogs because I am getting tired of the whining and complaining. Don't we do this for fun?

chefbea said...

A really fun saturday puzzle. Liked the mini theme and the write-up


@Rex, Orange, PG, et al.
I'd like to try my hand at constructing a CW. Is there a good book or website that you'd recommend that would not only give the rules, but the methodologies as well. FOR A BEGINNER, PLEASE.

Djinn said...

For all your tutorials, Orange, I salaam you! Always a treat to read your take on the CW and you have taught me many solving strategies. Now that I'm aware of this term, do I detect a mini-theme here? or would you just call it a marine current? We have ALEE, SETSAIL and ALOE/UNGUENT, as well as allusions to the harbor master, divers and fishing in the clues. Since I'm in California, I plan to don my bikini and enjoy the vestiges of summer today. GO CRAZY!

doc moreau said...

Unfortunately,while gouging is indeed "overcharging," it is not illegal. "Unethical" fer sure.
As I'm an exrailroader, my favorite adjective for a small, insignificant town is "jerkwater." Look that one up.


How about PODUNK... I love using that word, especially when describing my own town.

Orange said...

@anonymous 7:42—Hey, keep reading the blog! Just skip the comments and you're guaranteed to hear no more than one person complaining about a puzzle (and on good puzzle days, zero complainers).

@guys, "jerkwater" and "podunk" are great words too. I'm a city girl so I'm inclined to apply such words to pretty much anything outside the city limits!

@JOHN: Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies is the horribly misleading title of Patrick Berry's how-to book for crossword construction. He explains the rules, how to develop a solid theme, filling the grid, writing clues, and all the rest—with 70 of his own puzzles as illustrative examples. So you get a how-to book AND 70 crosswords from the master himself. For only $9.99! It's a steal.

You'll also want to explore Cruciverb.com, the constructors' community website. Publisher specifications are important if you're planning to submit your puzzles somewhere. The "Sage Advice" section is a must-read. And if you join the Cruciverb-L mailing list, you'll see the sorts of questions constructors grapple with in their work (and how other constructors answer those questions).

Joon said...

this one went down so smoothly, i didn't notice it was a 64. that's impressive. sure, i winced a little at SURG., but PRESENTEES isn't that bad and KINGSHIP is a word i've seen in actual use. my least favorite (other than SURG.) was probably DUSKIER. i've never found it necessary to compare two duskinesses.

parsan, "again" = twice, right? if something happens only once, there's no "again" about it. thus "again and again" = THRICE. my favorite clue of the puzzle.


Thanks, Orange.
I like the Dummies book... I did an Amazon "Look Inside" and it looks like my level, so I ordered it. Now I just need the courage to tackle one.

Joon said...

you will love that book. the how-to part is the best of its kind. add in 70 original puzzles by arguably the best in the business, and it's an absolute must-have.

choiwriter said...

@johsneverhome: Good luck with your new crossword-constructing venture! I admire anyone with the fortitude to put one of these together!

I enjoyed today's puzzle -- it was remarkably easy for a Saturday, but as I sipped my coffee and watched the glorious sunrise this morning, it fit right in. "Edenic" isn't in my daily vocabulary - thank god for the crosses.

Have a great weekend, puzzlers!

Parsan said...

@Joon - Of course, Doh!

ddbmc said...

Still learning from all of you and appreciate greatly all the insights. Loved Turf Controller, Head Light? and Magic Charm answers (Guess I'm easily ammused!)Got Unguent from Unguentine (rival of Bactine?). Iventive sort-Liar-brings to mind John Lovitz's character on SNL and more recently, Joe Wilson's invective...@Djinn, along with the sailing mini-theme, you could add "trimmer"-a device that shifts cargo to distribute the load so that it sits well in the water." Despite the complaints about the puzzles, I always learn something new, and as @Anon said, Don't we do this for fun? I do. Having started this later, I wasn't privvy to earlier, more challenging puzzles. I get the NYT Fri-Sunday and rarely finish them-but with this blog, getting a bit better all the time! Thank you all!

GLowe said...

@John -
Read every word that Nancy Salomon has written at cruciverb. Then, once you have your first piece of work that you're proud of, go back and read.every.word.again. Cuff self on side of head, and start over.

Oh ya - read BEQ's 10 bulls@#t themes. I had a few finished puzzles I tossed after reading that.

Good luck.

PuzzleGirl said...

+1 on the Patrick Berry book suggestion.

I think the decrease in difficulty of the LAT puzzle is probably great for a lot of people. And because I look at each puzzle as an opportunity for us to teach a little something here at the blog, it just doesn't bother me. Like others have said, if you really want a hard puzzle there are plenty out there.

Steve said...

@johnsneverhome-download a copy of crossword compiler...free demo version, $49 for the full version

crazycatlady said...

I thought this was a fun puzzle except for SURG. Orange thanks for the Austin Powers/MOJO clip. That made me laugh out loud. I always think those playground retorts are somewhat silly.

Jerome said...

GLowe- You are kidding... right? You put hours of work, effort, and thought into creating puzzles and you threw them away because another constructor wouldn't like them! You're not going to let an editor take a look and see if there's a chance that the "Bullshit Themes" might be Bullshit! You might find that the solving public has millions of points of view about what is and isn't a good puzzle.

*puzzle lover even if it's easy* said...

@anon 7:42am -- Point well taken. I am guilty of being a complainer. I will shut up about the puzzle difficulty issue. There's really nothing more to say anyway. Thanks for the honest feedback...and please don't stop reading the blog.

Anonymous said...

two questionable answers - the song used the spelling teeny not teenie, and for the first across, a preamp technically does not boost the signal for the speakers that is the amps job.

Stan said...

Nice, straightforward puzzle and write-up.

Loved the Green Day "Let's Go Crazy" clip.

Sfingi said...

When I first saw the puzzle it seemed overwhelming with no 3-letter words and a dozen 8 or greater. But once I started it took off. I began SE and went widdershins. Before and after I check if there are words I don't know at all, like "catcher Carleton," from Thursday. There really weren't any. It was a clever puzzle.

Except 46A SURG, though it appeared on its own, as well as 39A EGAN, but I figured he was Irish. What is this SURG? It better not be math, as in AND/OR circuits, or I'll have to brush up.

Unguentine - one of the first antiseptics and embalments. Still sold.

@Johnsneverhome - Ever check out the website epodunk? One of my faves. (Also, do you have a nickname?)


what's that?
That sounds like a fun word, like cattywompus.
Yes, Epodunk is cool.
My nickname is John.

chefbea said...

@sfingi like that word.. widdershins. I looked it up. Also like cattywompus

Quentinc said...

I think it means wider shins that are really really wide.

I liked today's puzzle except surg and duskier). Definitely more challenging for me than last Saturday's

Parsan said...

@Sfingi--I've put my newspaper out for recycling so I don't remember the clue, but I think my thoughts at the time were surg. short for surgery. Does that make sense?

JaJaJoe said...

'Wonder what color-shadings of solution-grid words mean - ala 7D GOCRAZY above in orange.

Orange said...

JaJa, the colored squares merely show where the cursor was in Across Lite when the screen capture of the puzzle was taken.

tmac said...

Loved this puzzle! Interesting grid with a modestly good fill. Speaking of the grid, I noticed that there were no 3 or 5 letter words. That seems pretty rare. Wonder if it's ever happened in the LAT before? I found one crossword at xword info that had no 3, 4, or 5 letter words!

tmac said...
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tmac said...
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