10.02.2009

FRIDAY, Oct. 2, 2009 — Jack McInturff




THEME: Middle C — "C" is added to the front of "R" words that are also the second words in familiar two-word phrases, creating wacky etc.

Still too easy for a late-week puzzle, but headed back in the right direction from last week's difficulty nadir. This one feels very ordinary, very forgettable. Just CRANKed out. None of the resulting theme answers are particularly memorable / funny / groan-inducing. With this add-a-letter type theme, the real test is the snap of the resulting answers, and today's are just dull. Except PUNK CROCK. That's almost funny. I think my real disappointment with the LAT puzzles right now has to do with the serious restrictions on clues — they are too straightforward, not playful or daring. Half the life of a puzzle is in its clues, and the clues have had the life sucked out of them, probably (again) from people writing to complain that they were too "convoluted" or "tricky" or god knows what. I admit that tricky clues can be dicey, and when they fail they fail hard. But I will take interesting, daring failure over dullness Any day.

Theme answers:

  • 20A: Grouch in the army? (MILITARY CRANK) — [Donald Rumsfeld?] ... too controversial, I know, but come on ... give me a real CRANK in the clue.
  • 27A: Small-time hood's pottery? (PUNK CROCK) — [Lies from Sid Vicious?]
  • 36A: Accident in a qualifying race? (HEAT CRASH) — [Miami team's late-season meltdown?]
  • 47A: Family insignia for designer Edith? (HEAD CREST) — love Edith HEAD, so I won't tamper with this one. Don't like "inSIGNia" and "deSIGNer" in same clue, though. Oh, what the hell? [Run a toothpaste company?]
  • 54A: Jalopy used as a trade-in? (EXCHANGE CRATE) — uh ... [Soapbox on the trading floor?]

Love HAGGIS, as I love All Things Scottish (and Pizza ... that's an old SNL reference that only about three people are going to get today, but whatever) (47D: Traditional Scottish dish). SPECTER (41D: Phantom) and MOCKERY (13D: Farce) are also hot, but the ETHENES / DIOXIDE pairing is dire (39D: Refinery gases + 40D: Carbon _____). Just horrible. One or the other would be possible, as a dullish word from the world of science, but together they're unlikeable. The small corners of this puzzle feel phoned-in, which is disappointing. PPP + IUM, OSS + ETE, etc. WTF is a PERETTI (43D: Italian jewelry designer Elsa)? Why would you make that your anchor Down in the SE? How many -E-E--- answers are there out there? Dozens? Scores? Come on. Be more imaginative! What about DENEUVE?! Or ... REVENGE!



Crosswordese 101: ZIA (51A: '70s-'80s Pakistani leader) — Learned it from xwords. Overthrew Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (Benazir's father), who was then hanged after being convicted on (probably trumped-up) charges of murdering a political opponent. ZIA later died in a plane crash with several of his generals. All before I had any sense of world politics. ZIA looks cool 'cause of the "Z," but I'd treat it like crosswordese. Use sparingly — only when necessary.

What else?

  • 64A: River near Kassel, Germany (EDER) — more crosswordese. Oh, the rivers ...
  • 3D: Old Viking descendants of northern France (NORMANS) — as a medievalist, this should have been a gimme, but I just don't associate NORMANS with Vikings. At all. I had those first letters and figured the answer would have something to do with NORWAY.
  • 21D: Express's opp. (loc.) — "Opp.?" Maybe "alt." Awkward cluing.
  • 7D: Pro _____ (rata) — supercrosswordesey. Blecch (again, except where necessary — in a 4x5 section, it's hardly necessary in this instance).

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]

P.S. Two new cool crossword projects to announce / support this morning.

1. Patrick Blindauer has just launched his 2009 Holiday Puzzlefest. He's going to make a suite of 10-12 Holiday-themed puzzles, which will be tied to a contest, the grand prize of which will be either your registration fee for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament or the equivalent in cash ($290). Patrick is one of the very best constructors in the country, and you can get in on this Puzzlefest for a mere $5. You must do this. Ridiculously cheap for what will undoubtedly be superior, thoughtful, entertaining puzzle craftsmanship. Go here now to sign up. Right now. Seriously.

2. Matt Gaffney wrote me this morning with the following message:

October is "Hell Month" at MGWCC [Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest] -- five spooky Fridays with haunted themes that get progressively tougher as the days get shorter. And unlike other months, *every* Hell Month entrant who sends in the correct contest answer to all five October puzzles will receive a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set.

Naturally the crosswords and metapuzzles will be cruel and unusual in difficulty...
As always, MGWCC can be found here. One of the great independent puzzle sites out there.

Everything Else — 1A: List of options (MENU); 5A: "Get lost!" ("SCRAM!"); 10A: Capricious notion (WHIM); 14A: Informed about (UP ON); 15A: Rod Stewart's ex (ALANA); 16A: Parade honoree (HERO); 17A: Sugar and spice product? (GIRL); 18A: Turbine part (ROTOR); 19A: __-Z: classic Camaro (IROC); 20A: Grouch in the army? (MILITARY CRANK); 23A: Upright, for one (PIANO); 25A: Campfire leftover (ASH); 26A: Tell stories (LIE); 27A: Small-time hood's pottery? (PUNK CROCK); 31A: Hardwood tree (ALDER); 33A: Downing St. VIPs (PMS); 34A: Small island (CAY); 35A: Cheeky (BRASSY); 36A: Accident in a qualifying race? (HEAT CRASH); 39A: Ford failures (EDSELS); 42A: "Bad" cholesterol, briefly (LDL); 43A: "The Gold Bug" author (POE); 46A: Hedren of "The Birds" (TIPPI); 47A: Family insignia for designer Edith? (HEAD CREST); 50A: Clod chopper (HOE); 51A: '70s-'80s Pakistani leader (ZIA); 53A: Analyze grammatically (PARSE); 54A: Jalopy used as a trade-in? (EXCHANGE CRATE); 59A: Evening, in ads (NITE); 60A: Concur (AGREE); 61A: Singer Redding (OTIS); 64A: River near Kassel, Germany (EDER); 65A: Like Chicago, so they say (WINDY); 66A: Where the Jazz play (UTAH); 67A: Belgrade native (SERB); 68A: Pair in the middle of dressing? (ESSES); 69A: Very small (TINY); 1D: Morning container (MUG); 2D: Prefix with center (EPI); 3D: Old Viking descendants of northern France (NORMANS); 4D: Separate, as chain parts (UNLINK); 5D: Indian cover-up (SARI); 6D: Congeal, as blood (CLOT); 7D: Pro __ (RATA); 8D: Arctic jacket (ANORAK); 9D: Martin and Magdalene (MARYS); 10D: Spinning sound (WHIR); 11D: Harbingers (HERALDS); 12D: Many O. Henry endings (IRONIES); 13D: Farce (MOCKERY); 21D: Express's opp. (LOC.); 22D: Scorches (CHARS); 23D: Very quietly, in music (PPP); 24D: Periodic table suffix (-IUM); 28D: Old ColorTrak TVs (RCAS); 29D: Cholesterol-reducing grain (OAT); 30D: Repeating series (CYCLE); 32D: __-di-dah (LAH); 35D: Like worn tires (BALD); 36D: With it (HEP); 37D: "My Fair Lady" flower seller (ELIZA); 38D: Old vitamin bottle abbr. (RDA); 39D: Refinery gases (ETHENES); 40D: Carbon __ (DIOXIDE); 41D: Phantom (SPECTER); 43D: Italian jewelry designer Elsa (PERETTI); 44D: CIA predecessor (OSS); 45D: When the French fry? (ÉTÉ); 47D: Traditional Scottish dish (HAGGIS); 48D: Yr.-end auditor (CPA); 49D: Inform on, slangily (RAT OUT); 52D: Really impressed (IN AWE); 55D: Chef's secret ingredient, perhaps (HERB); 56D: Fish-eating birds (ERNS); 57D: Give up (CEDE); 58D: Actor Fernando et al. (REYS); 62D: Author Fleming (IAN); 63D: Short at the poker table (SHY).

25 comments:

John said...

Thank Heaven for the NYT and BEQ. If this was the only puzzle in town, I'd give up crosswords! More than a fair write-up Rex.

Joon said...

i agree that it would have been nice if the theme answers had been more amusing. or if they'd all inserted the C after a K sound like PUNK (C)ROCK.

DIOXIDE is a perfectly fine word (everybody knows CO2, and it does have the X, so it's not totally lifeless); but i thought ETHENES was the worst thing in the grid by far. i mean... ETHENE is pretty uncommon to begin with (C2H4, with the carbon-carbon double bond to distinguish it from ETHANE, not that the clue tells us anything about this), and now we're taking this gas and pluralizing it? how does that make any sense?

by contrast, i thought RATA and ZIA were not bad at all. a little crosswordesy, sure, but a puzzle is entitled to some of that. i don't think i'd want to cross RATA with ALANA, but that's not RATA's fault.

shrub5 said...

I liked this puzzle more than you did, Rex, but loved your alternate clues for the theme entries (LOL)! I was glad this puzzle put up more of a fight than recent ones yet I finished with no outside help. I have come to firmly believe patience is a key part of puzzle solving.

Favorite clues: When the French fry? (ETE) and Upright, for one (PIANO). The most troublesome area for me was the NE where it took too long to see IRONIES and MOCKERY, mainly because I did not know IROC. Also cheeky does not seem like a good clue for BRASSY, IMO.

Elsewhere I had some puzzlement at LOC for Express's opp, but the crosses seemed OK. I've seen ANORAK (Arctic jacket) a few times before but it doesn't seem to want to stick in my brain, so I needed all the crosses for that one. I think I need an anorak this AM -- BRRR, It's cold!!!

Sfingi said...

I'm at the point - good or bad - where on Thur-Fri the LA is too easy and the NYT too hard. Actually glad to have USA Today for those 2 days, which is Wednesdayish all week. I'll have to search out the Quigley.

Had a Natick (sounds like having a fit) at 8D ANORAK and 18A ALANA for the letter "N"

"If It's not Scottish It's Crap."
There was a brick and mortar business called All Things Sicilian in Lawrence, MA which carried pottery, flags, aprons, cookbooks, shelf food, etc. It now exists only on the internet. Fine. But, another reason not to bother to go to that wretched town, since the Festa di Tre Santi went downhill.

Zia is also Aunt in Italian (Tia in Spanish and Portuguese).

Normans were Norsemen when they hit France - which just rolled over for them - (you're kidding!)When men get rid of other men and take their women - who wins - the Mother Tongue. They become French teachers.
After that, they attacked England and Sicily in the 11th century with interesting results.

Sounds like Rex would like both better clues and better answers (Deneuve). Sounds good.

GoG8rs said...

Unlike RP and John, I rather liked this puzzle, but maybe because I am an intermediate solver. I found the theme of adding a C before the R word, but never got 27A because I didn't get (and still don't understand) PPP for 23D.
Granted the puzzles have seemed easy lately, even for me, but sometimes I think Xword critics are like restaurant critics: when you eat out for a living, you have a much different standard than the occasional diner. I'm not going to nitpick the subtlies of the olive oil but will enjoy experience, most of the time.

Orange said...

Rex, love your alternate theme clues!

I second Rex's recommendations for the Patrick Blindauer puzzle-fest (in fact, I was the first "backer" yesterday) and Matt Gaffney's weekly contest. When publishing outlets for excellent crosswords are dwindling with newspapers' declining fortunes, crossword constructors need alternative routes for selling their work.

Patrick's Kickstarter project is a terrific idea (done well by Eric Berlin this summer, too). I look forward to seeing more solver-funded, middleman-free crossword ventures via Kickstarter.

Matt doesn't charge for his contest, but once a year he opens the PayPal tip jar and his site also promotes his terrific puzzle books and the nonfiction Gridlock. Buy some!

JOHNSNEVERHOME said...

I think RP is trying too hard to find something to criticize the LAT. THIS WAS A GREAT McInturff puzzle! Lots of amusing clues and an excellent theme construct. A few fluffy fills but by and large a good puzzle. There's nothing wrong with DIOXIDE and PERETTI.
I was disappointed that ERNS was once again used... this word is worn out. Glad to see that Post Menstrual Syndrome was not clued for PMS... who needs that ugly reminder. Sad to see WINDY city for Chicago... yes, we are in mourning this morning. The most beautiful city in the world was turned down by the IOC... just horrible !!!! Also sad to see the chest of Sid Vicious. Would have preferred a photo of ALANA to S.V. Liked seeing {Sugar and Spice product} for GIRL, but I hope they never do the saying for boys (ugh!)
Loved the Pygmalion story, but thought the ragamuffin's name was Liza Doolittle, so the ELIZA threw me a little (even though it's correct).
Time to refill my {morning container}.
Have a super weekend y'all.

C said...

Agree with RP's comments, enjoyed his alternative clues.

I am OK with the chemistry corner but then I am a chemist. In all fairness, ethene, better known as ethylene, isn't a fair answer as it is not the common name though chemists would call it fair ;^) Since the C2HX family appears to be fair game, watch out for ethyne, better known as acetylene, in upcoming puzzles.

I enjoy the blog and glad the puzzles are spurring longer posts.

Orange said...

I forgot to mention that Elsa PERETTI designs swoopy jewelry and objets for Tiffany. I have a Peretti glass heart paperweight.

@JOHN, what's so ugly about PMS? (Pre-, not post-, by the way.) It happens, it's in the language, everyone knows what it means, and it's not associated with grieving like CANCER and HITLER are.

JOHNSNEVERHOME said...

Sorry, Orange, I guess I was thinking of PND. My wife went thru horrible depression after the birth of our children and I felt so sorry for her going through that. Thanks for correcting me on PMS.

Orange said...

@JOHN, they usually call it PPD, or postpartum depression, now. Luckily, there are much better treatments for it these days. I'm sorry your wife and family had to deal with that.

Tuttle said...

IROC threw me because I was thinking of actual classic Camaros and not purposefully crippled 80s GM garbage.

And the hardcore Classic-Car nuts would have a conniption if you included even a 67 Z-28 on a list of "classics" since they'll maintain that nothing built after 1955 or so can even qualify as a classic.

JOHNSNEVERHOME said...

I think we need a special CW101 to cover all these various syndromes, like PPD, PMS, PND, TSS, etc.
It's all very confusing to me, but then I'm a man.

GLowe said...

Interesting thing about PPD, at least in our case, is neither one of realized or even suspected what was happening (it was after our third, 17 years ago now, we thought we were old pro's at the baby thing). Anyway, one visit to the shrink got the diagnosis, I think she was so astonished at the diagnosis that she snapped right out of it (with a bit of non-pharma prescription like exersize, eating, etc).

I'm with @SF on the difficulty part. NYT Fri *grids* now intimidate me all by themselves, without even looking at the clues.

:-)

On the flipside, it's starting to feel like 'well, if I can solve it, it must be a crappy puzzle'. Gotta be careful about that space, too. I solved BEQ's for the first time the other day, and promptly decided it wasn't a very good effort on his part ... double :-)

Djinn said...

Thanks for the alternative clues, RP, and the puzzle site recommendations, too. The triple p stands for piano cubed (piano means soft in musical notation and is the antonym of loud/forte) in other words, very, very soft. The pianoforte is the instrument we used to call today's piano.

Clues referring to languages (especially slang or archaic) and the Arts amuse me more than the sport or pop culture ones can. That's only because I understand the allusions readily. Of course, that makes the difficult clues all the more valuable, but it's true only as long as the answer is meaningful to me.

Luckily, we have this forum to help clarify the obscure for each other. Learning new words is a pleasure, but without the comments here, I would neither appreciate nor remember many new words that I discover through CW's.

JOHNSNEVERHOME said...

I don't care to solve a puzzle that is simple enough for me to solve.
That makes me think of the Groucho Marx quote "I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members."

Genie said...

Djinn - your comments were magical.

Djinn said...

My comment should have been directed to GoG8ers who asked about the meaning of ppp. I'm happy that you're here GoG8ers to help me understand those devilish sport clues.

crazycatlady said...

RP - I found your alternate clues very clever. This puzzle seem a tiny bit more difficult than the usual, but still finished without a problem except for the chemical corner. I liked the PERETTI clue. Her jewelry designs are classic, especially the tear drops and open hearts. I agree with JNH about ERN/ERNS. It seems like those birds are popping up every day. I didn't even notice the PMS since I was solving in down mode today. I enjoyed the info on the Normans. That is my new bit of knowledge for the day.

ddbmc said...

Hi, @JohnsNH-- Groucho's quote was: "Please accept my resignation. I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member...(I had this in my post on Wednesday!)That said, I like this cw club!

I so appreciate the parsing of the cw puzzles. Our bloggers always provide great food for thought. I love the word struggle, learning new words and getting mad at myself for not remembering words that we've discussed previously. I venture to the other sites to test my mojo. Really enjoyed Rex's alternate clues, too.

Before I realized the theme, I had "Military Oscar" in for Grouch in the Army!(lol) For harbingers, I wanted Omens, but waaay to short. Got heralds with crosses. Many of the other clues were more "fill in the blank" type answers. I love the clues that are plays on words or send you in another direction in their meanings.

I recently did a People Magazine cw (should I admit that? do I need an intervention?) The puzzle--if you can call it that-- was all fill in the blanks. Nae again! I should have had my Edith Head examined!

And yet another reference to Poe, "The Gold Bug" author! We see him alot in these cw's.

Parsan said...

@Rex--funny theme clues! That would have been fun, harder, but more rewarding.

No problem with PERETTI (beautiful, expensive stuff; don't own any), but unlike C, not a chemist, so always have to rely on crosses to get words like ETHENE. However, I did know DIOXIDE.

@JOHNS----Sorry about the Olympics. My Elmhurst kids were relly hoping Chicago would win. Guess we'll have to pack our bags for Rio.

Always thought of evening and NITE (night) as two different time periods. Am. Heritage Dic. says evening is "the decline and setting of the sun between afternoon and nightfall" and night is "the period between sunset and sunrise; especially the hours of darkness". However, other listed definitions expand the time period. Here in the NE in the dead of winter it gets dark at 4:30P.M., even before it's evening, so that shoots down my original premise. Oh well.

Quite a difference between the EDSEL(S) and the IROC. @Tuttle--Glad the car buffs don't make the rules about what is a classic. Am able to get "classic insurance" (cars over 25 years old) on a stored '67 auto at a very cheap rate.

JOHNSNEVERHOME said...

@Parsan thanks for the condolences, but I always wanted to go to Rio.
Re: POE
Does anyone remmember "Purity of Essence?"
It came from my all time favorite movie. There, now you know how weird I am?

Sfingi said...

@John - already knew. And Dr. Strangelove.
I like science clues. I thought I was learning more acronyms. Now, not so sure.

@gogater - great insight comparing food critics to xword critics.

ppp is piano piano piano, or extra soft. The instrument, piano, was originally pianoforte, which means soft/loud, since the piano forte did not need 2 separate keyboards, like the harpsichord, to have a soft and a loud, but used the pedal to soften. Italians don't always say molto piano, but pian'piano for very soft.

Lana said...

@Parsan and John: If you go to Rio be very careful! Once you get outside the beach areas it's a dangerous and filthy place. At 20% unemployment robbers and beggars are at every turn. Perhaps by the time the Olympics roll around they may have cleaned out the riff-raff (maybe move them into detention outside the city) and trash for their big debut on the world stage, but I wouldn,t hold my breath. Best bet is to stick to the beach, the event venues and your hotel!

housemouse said...

This was a nice puzzle today. There were a couple of things I didn't know much about, especially music. Like everyone, I know what I like (anything from the medieval period through the classical period, and "pop" music up to about 1970; after that, silence and void). Never heard of PPP or Peretti, so I learned a new word or two.

I agree with GoG8rs and John on the desirability of keeping the clues at a reasonable level of clarity. Maybe because I don't have much free time, I hate to be hooked up to Google all the time. When the "puzzler" deliberately constructs clues to try to keep people from being able to solve the puzzle, you either are in tune with his/her sense of humor or not, and too often I find myself wondering what the **** is he talking about? And then the answer seems sometimes incongruent with the clues.

It's not just a matter of wanting "easy" puzzles, but of not being "in sync" with someone else's sense of humor or manner of phrasing. IOW, I think cluers should treat the puzzle solvers fairly. I like to expand my vocabulary, but couldn't really care less about obscure sports or geographic trivia.

IMO, this was a good puzzle; just challenging enough but not too obscure in the clues.