FRIDAY, Oct. 16, 2009 — Dan Naddor

THEME: Talk like a vampire ... — "W" sound changed to "V" sound in first words of common phrases, resulting in wacky new phrases, clued "?"-style

Dan Naddor is prolific, and his stuff is pretty solid, but I feel like his grids are becoming very predictable. I knew who the constructor of this was without ever looking at the credit. Lots of theme answers united by letter/sound change. Wackiness abounds. True, lots of folks do that, but I have this feeling he has a master list of 100s of these types of gimmicks that he's just working his way through, cranking them out in high volume (no one appears in LAT more). There's nothing wrong with the grids, which are almost always well constructed. But ... seems like his work should be getting more imaginative and artful, instead of predictable and workmanlike.

LAT Difficulty Watch: Late-week puzzles remain alarmingly easy. This puzzle took me less than 4 minutes. Compare with today's NYT, which took me an eternity.

Musical interlude: POLKA! (17A: Oktoberfest dance)

Theme answers:

  • 18A: Seat for eating scaloppine? (VEAL chair)
  • 23A: Tool for a dueling snake? (VIPER blade)
  • 36A: What Tarzan became after years of swinging? (VINE connoisseur)
  • 49A: Egotistical describer of laws of motion? (VAIN Newton)
  • 55A: Paleontologist's ski resort discoveries? (VAIL bones)

All these allegedly wacky clues need real help to make them funny / entertaining / snappy. Oddly literal, as clues for wacky phrases go. Where the non-theme fill is concerned — loved SLOW POKE (39D: Hardly a speed demon), but did not love NEON TETRA (33D: Aquarium fish with an iridescent stripe), which felt a bit desperate. TETRA is crosswordese, and this longer form didn't please me much more than the short form would have. I like HOSNI (5A: Egypt's Mubarak), as it used to be one of the many pet names I had for my cat, who now seems to get called just "Mr. Wiles" or "Señor Wiles." When I lived alone, when it was just him and me ... man, did he have names. I remember calling him "Zubin Mehta" for a while. I have no idea why.

Crosswordese 101: NACRE (14D: Mother-of-pearl) — the definition pretty much says it all. As answers.com says, NACRE is "The pearly internal layer of certain mollusk shells, used to make decorative objects." I find it to be a particularly ugly word; it's like NASAL and CANKER had a baby. Yuck. See also OCHRE(S) (27A: Earth tones). "RE" endings are for a. the British and b. the French. SUCRE I can handle. Filthy LUCRE. No. Gross.

What else?

  • 43A: Sykora of the NHL (Petr) — If I didn't watch ESPN, I might have thought "WTF!?"
  • 20A: Speaker's stand (lectern) — turns out I (still?) can't spell this. LECTURN, anyone?
  • 41A: Madison's neat roomie (Unger) — I object to the cutesy "roomie." Also, I am an idiot and neglected the parallel construction rule — wrote in FELIX.
  • 38D: Airing in prime time (on TV) — airing ANY time, actually.

See you Monday


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

Everything Else — 1A: Seawater component, to a chemist (NACL); 5A: Egypt's Mubarak (HOSNI); 10A: Adriatic Sea country: Abbr. (ALB.); 13A: "In other words ..." ("I MEAN ..."); 15A: Decide to participate (OPT IN); 16A: "You stink!" ("BOO!"); 17A: Oktoberfest dance (POLKA); 18A: Seat for eating scaloppine? (VEALCHAIR); 20A: Speaker's stand (LECTERN); 22A: Blue Cross competitor (AETNA); 23A: Tool for a dueling snake? (VIPER BLADE); 26A: Home of the witch who melted (WEST); 27A: Earth tones (OCHRES); 28A: Newspaper ad meas. (SQ. IN.); 30A: Sainted fifth-century pope (LEO I); 31A: Playfully (IN FUN); 33A: Org. once headed by Heston (NRA); 36A: What Tarzan became after years of swinging? (VINE CONNOISSEUR); 40A: Half and half (ONE); 41A: Madison's neat roomie (UNGER); 42A: Bottom-line negative (LOSS); 43A: Sykora of the NHL (PETR); 44A: "The Tempest" king (ALONSO); 46A: Facts and figures (DATA); 49A: Egotistical describer of laws of motion? (VAIN NEWTON); 52A: Month for fools? (APRIL); 54A: Uranium-238, e.g. (ISOTOPE); 55A: Paleontologist's ski resort discoveries? (VAIL BONES); 57A: "Au contraire!" ("NOT SO!"); 60A: Nest egg item, briefly (IRA); 61A: Cheri of "SNL" (OTERI); 62A: Firestone Country Club city (AKRON); 63A: Arch site: Abbr. (STL); 64A: Passover meal (SEDER); 65A: Home of the witch buried under a fallen house (EAST); 1D: Chill in the air (NIP); 2D: Latin 101 verb (AMO); 3D: Texting device (CELLPHONE); 4D: View from Cleveland (LAKE ERIE); 5D: Shack (HOVEL); 6D: "The Barber of Seville," e.g. (OPERA); 7D: Represents (STANDS FOR); 8D: Zilch (NIL); 9D: Peruvian ancestor (INCA); 10D: Taper off (ABATE); 11D: Tender beef cuts (LOINS); 12D: Sacha Baron Cohen title character (BORAT); 14D: Mother-of-pearl (NACRE); 19D: Axed (HEWN); 21D: Atlanta-based sta. (TBS); 23D: Saab competitor (VOLVO); 24D: Trap during a winter storm, maybe (ICE IN); 25D: Prefix with distant (EQUI-); 29D: 22-Acr. business (INS.); 31D: Deep-rooted (INGRAINED); 32D: Miami-to-N.Y. dir. (NNE); 33D: Aquarium fish with an iridescent stripe (NEON TETRA); 34D: Rene of "Ransom" (RUSSO); 35D: Burning desire? (ARSON); 37D: Stick in a parlor (CUE); 38D: Airing in prime time, say (ON TV); 39D: Hardly a speed demon (SLOWPOKE); 43D: Tot's beach toy (PAIL); 44D: Bad picnic omen (ANT); 45D: Hotelier Helmsley (LEONA); 46D: Lincoln's Confederate counterpart (DAVIS); 47D: Separately (APART); 48D: Court case (TRIAL); 50D: Grenoble's river (ISERE); 51D: Boot camp negative (NO SIR); 53D: Debt-laden corp. takeovers (LBOS); 56D: Suffix with Capri (-OTE); 58D: Mariner's "Help!" (SOS); 59D: Que. neighbor (ONT.).


Dan Naddor said...

Good morning, Rex. On the contrary, I don't have a master list or any organized approach, for that matter, to finding themes. I create as the fancy strikes me. It just so happens that Rich is a big fan of wordplay, and he accepts this type of puzzle at a higher rate than my more "creative" ones. I build twice as many puzzles that get turned down than get accepted. You'd probably enjoy the rejects better, based on your comments today.

mac said...

You're right, Petr was new, and somehow I expected a Japanese name. I needed too many crosses for Davis, and didn't realize an ant could ever be an omen.

On to the wedding in Greenwich! We'll probably get a good look at Friday afternoon rush-hour traffic...

GLowe said...

I got a bit spooked by the cluing, thinking that there's no way that "Month for fools" could be APRIL, or that "Court case" could be TRIAL. Not on a Friday at least.
But then it was. Hmph.

Charles Bogle said...

I've come to enjoy Dan Naddor's puzzles very much in my five months of trials and errors and today's outing was no exception. I really admire his ? clues; his fill is also different and solid. Today's LAT was certainly the most challenging (for me) of the week; thanks RP for teaching NACRE. Liked: HOVEL, VAINNEWTON...thanks Mr. Naddor, nice going and please share any insights you can with us!

Carol said...

I have to agree with @Charles Bogle on this one. Really liked VIPERBLADE & VAINNEWTON.

Also didn't object to NEONTETRA as that is what we called those fish in our aquarium when I was a child. Tetra has always sounded rather incomplete.

Knew NACRE and have enjoyed looking & sorting through buttons made of shell made beautiful by the rainbow colors of NACRE.

@Dan, is the LAT dead set on making puzzles easier? This one actually had names I didn't know, but didn't require a "Google" as the crosses took care of them. While I'm certainly no tournament solver, I was enjoying the challenge of the previous LAT puzzles - with a Google or two, there are many things one can learn. Anyway, thanks for the puzzle.

Parsan said...

Caught on to the "V"'s early and delighted in finishing the answers. For me, the most challenging puzzle of the week but also the most fun. Favorite -- VINE CONNOISSEUR. Thanks Rex and Dan!

shrub5 said...

I LOL'd at the theme answers, esp. VEALCHAIR and VAINNEWTON. The rest of the fill was imaginative with INGRAINED, SLOWPOKE and ISOTOPE among the best. More LOLing at clue/answers: Half and half (ONE) and Stick in a parlor (CUE). Also liked the two witch references to "The Wizard of Oz" -- EAST and WEST. Leads me to plug the B'way show "Wicked" which I thought was a hoot!

Dan Naddor said...

Carol, the LAT puzzle is part of a syndicated entertainment package sold not only to Tribune papers (including the LAT) but to other smaller independents across the country. Many readers, used to the easier puzzles from Wayne Williams, complained after they started getting Rich Norris' LAT instead. Biggest complaint -- too hard, can't finish.

Personally, I enjoy the challenge of tackling a tough puzzle with a clever theme, even if it means not filling every square. Based on the mail, though, I'm in the minority. And business comes first. So unless everyone who wants to see the LAT toughened up writes, emails, calls, whatever, to the Herald Syndicate in protest, I believe this "dumbing-down" trend will continue. My themes and grids haven't really changed, but my more clever, imaginative clues aren't making the cut nearly as often.

Hope that helps.

Sfingi said...

Did not know Petr. Sports again. Did not catch onto theme, but solved anyway. Which proves, after months, that sports and themes are still a problem for me, but finishing, and w/o Google is better.

It would have been a cute theme, since I like vampires, esp. greenish ones. (I guess, when they need blood they get that way, rather than pale.)

@Carol - mother of pearl is lovely, and, I understand very workable, for buttons and inlay.

@Glowe - the powers that be probably changed Naddor's clues. Wouldn't you love to know the originals? Probably saving them to slip in some later time. Maybe if he publishes a book he can use the originals? Does the Tribune own his crosswords?

37D CUE my favorite today.

hazel said...

@Dan - I appreciate your chiming in (again) on what seems to have become the favorite subject of this blog. This time it seemed you had to stick up for your own integrity no less.

I enjoy your grids, and like you, wish some of your more clever, imaginative clues would make it through from time to time, but realize that's out of your hands.

imsdave said...

Nice puzzle - I was over-theming it a bit at the beginning, thinking the the vowel switch would be all "auto" related after getting VIPERBLADE, I went for VEALCOVER (prior to looking at the clue) at first, easily sorted out.

@Dan - would you mind sending me an email? As a newbie at constructing, I have a few questions and would enjoy discussing them with you. Click on my name and my email address is right there.

scott said...

I for one was very excited to see PETR given a proper clue. I recall a month or two ago, it was clued as a rock prefix or something like that which many people rightfully objected to since it is not a prefix really. NHL's Sykora is a tad obscure, but a pefectly reasonable clue.

Anonymous said...

Please Please Dan! Let us know where to write/call/email/whatever to protest this dumbing down. It is ruining my life!

Bohica said...

I liked this puzzle just fine, thank you very much. Dan Naddor is my favorite LAT constructor.

I was thinking of a German accent, as they pronounce w's as v's. In Russia vodka is spelled VODKA and pronounced Wodka, in Germany it's spelled Wodka and pronounced VODKA.

bluebell said...

I was nonplused by veal chair, but with viper blade caught on. Got hung up on Petr for a bit because I couldn't believe the spelling. But finished with no Googles and thought the theme was fun.

Ve haf our methods!

GLowe said...

Dunno if all tags werk, but here goes:


This is an interview over @ CC with Rich, where he discusses the difficulty level. Essentially the point is that you can't publish something that your audience doesn't want, and it appears his audience wants the easier puzzles.

C said...

Enjoyed the word play in the puzzle, if I wasn't familiar with Mr. Naddor's style, I would have thought the theme clues were written by Merle Reagle.

Easy but fun puzzle.

SethG said...

Not a big fan of the INs mini-theme. INS. ICE, OPT and SQ IN. IN CA, FUN and GRAINED.

I'm audi.

Orange said...

Good news! Rich Norris tells me that the powers-that-be agree with him (and so many of us) that the late-week puzzles need not be so easy. So the puzzles he's editing now, which we'll see in a few more weeks, will have somewhat tougher clues on Friday and Saturday. Not back to pre-spring '09 levels, but at this point I'll take it.

Anonymous said...

Splendid. A cerbral nepenthe.....the return to more puzzling conundrums. Our brains can use all the convolutions we can create. And, I personally can continue my "patience" quest, when stumped. Dare we also hope for puns, palidromes, ??

Peaches in Regalia said...

ddbmc said:
As a NJ Devils fan, Petr Sykora was a gimme! But @Sfingi and @Parsan, trust me, hockey is about the ONLY sport I know anything about!

@Orange! Thanks for the bon mots re: the late week puzzles moving in a more challenging direction. I attempted my first NYT puzzle the other day and made it about half way through! So, I'm progressing! Enjoy all I learn from the puzzles and the blog. Even when the puzzles are easy, the discussion here is always lively, enlightening and entertaining. Thanks, too, Dan, for your comments on the dilemma of puzzle submissions.

@RP-my sons used to listen to Weird Al ad nauseam! Thanks for the videos, tho' they were good for a lol! One of the guys in the first video reminded me a bit of Frank Zappa....Peaches in Regalia, anyone?

jeff in chicago said...

Liked this. Competing Oz witches. Nice!

A quibble. Newspaper ads are not measured in square inches. They are measured in column inches. They are not the same thing.

Parsan said...

@Peaches in Regalia--Knew Petr and usually get most sports references. No clue on technology, popes, and obscure royals.

Parsan said...

@jeff in chicago--I thought the same thing!

florida grandma said...

I enjoyed the themed answers; thought they were fun. I think part of the problem with the easier LAT puzzles is that many puzzlers think you are "cheating" if you google anything. They would rather leave squares blank than use any references. They are obviously very vocal.
Most of us would rather learn something and put it to use on a future puzzle and thus improve our skills. I look forward to crosswordese 101 every day. What a great learning tool and I thank Rex, Puzzle Girl, and Orange for their work at helping us become better solvers.

gespenst said...

Loved "Viperblade" in particular ;)

I wanted "ardor" for burning desire, but obviously the crosses forced me to change that. I guess I missed the "?" in the clue.

I pulled "nacre" out of nowhere.

Overall, too easy for a Friday, but not a bad puzzle. I look forward to seeing a little more challenge at the end of the week ... and I'm not above resorting to google/wiki for tough clues.

Seems to me, starting easy and getting harder over the week makes a lot of sense ... something for everyone, *and* helps develop our puzzling skills :)

Carol said...

@Orange - Thanks for the good news.

@Dan - Thanks for answering my question. Maybe after what Orange found out, you will have more leeway! Anyway, I like your puzzles.

@florida grandma - I agree with your comments about google. Keeping the brains active by learning new words and definitions is good for all of us. Besides, I don't see much difference between using google and a crossword puzzle dictionary or other reference book.

Thanks to Rex, PG, & Orange. I appreciate your comments and love the fact that you write from different perspectives.

Tom Mc said...

@dan: I add my thanks to those of others for giving us some insight. I was struck my your comment that 2/3 of your puzzles are left on the cutting room floor. Would it be possible for some of these to see the light of day a la BEQ or Matt Gaffney once a week or so?

et said...

Just discovered this site. And am fairly new at doing this puzzle. The site and comments are a hoot!
Pleased me that I got the theme fairly quickly after reading comments.

But someone please help me out - what's a capri-ote?? Never heard that one. I'll be back! Thanks.

Joon said...

tom, one of the nice things about working with rich norris is that he's involved in every step of the process. you start by running a theme idea past him. if he doesn't like it, you can stop right there and move on to another idea. if he does like it, you fill the grid and then send it to him. if he likes that, you write clues. if he doesn't like the grid, he'll ask you to redo parts of it (or, i guess, all, if it's really bad). the point is, you don't really ever have to do fruitless work. so i bet most of dan's "cutting room floor" ideas are just that, ideas—not fully fleshed-out puzzles that could be published somewhere else.

by contrast, will shortz (who has quite a different job, due to the vast volume of submissions he gets at the NYT) wants you to construct an entire puzzle (theme, fill, clues) and send it in (by snail mail, no less). then he'll either accept it or reject it, but either way, there is no real give and take. on rare occasions, he'll say something like "i like this idea, but i'd rather the grid didn't contain ___ and ___, so could you redo that corner?" but for the most part, it's a yes or no. and if it's a no because the theme is deficient in some way (or maybe just done to death), well, you've done a lot of work for nothing, because odds are nobody else will take it, either.

Djinn said...

@Carol: We always called our neon tetras by the full name, too. I agree that "tetras" sounds a bit terse.
@Orange: Thanks for bringing welcome news!
I will write the Herald Syndicate today about accelerating the challenge.

Djinn said...

@Rex: 41A. Felix the Cat was purr-fect!

ddbmc said...

@Et, a Capriote is an inhabitant of Capri, as opposed to a "Capriati," who was a former World #1 women's tennis player from the US. Welcome aboard!

John said...

Felix the Cat was the first cat of Television. A Felix short film was used to demonstrate the first mechanical T V system.