SATURDAY, August 1, 2009—Barry C. Silk

THEME: No theme today—Just a themeless Saturday puzzle framed with a slew of seven-letter answers

Have we talked about pangrams here before? The dictionary will tell you that a pangram is a sentence or verse that contains every letter of the alphabet—"The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog," for example. The crossword community also applies the word to a puzzle that contains all 26 letters, like today's crossword by Barry Silk. Barry has a habit of including a lot of what I call "Scrabbly" letters, so when you see his byline, it's usually a good idea to suspect that he'll include words containing Q, X, Z, J, and K. Today, he worked two Qs, two Zs, and two Ks into the mix.

I dunno about this puzzle. Usually I enjoy Barry's puzzles quite a bit, but this one didn't do it for me. Maybe I'm just tired. Or maybe it's that crosswords with this sort of grid—tons of seven-letter answers but not much in the Really Cool Long Answers department—seldom delight me. When Saturday rolls around, dang it, I want Really Cool Long Answers.

Crosswordese 101: ESTE has the most solid crosswordese credentials of any word in this puzzle. 23A: Ferrara ruling family is today's clue. The most common clues for ESTE include Villa d'___ as a fill-in-the-blank, Renaissance family name, Italian noble surname, and city near Padua. You could read all about the House of Este at Wikipedia, but the article's packed with all sorts of information that...will never show up in a clue. I'm not curious enough about this topic to read further. The Villa looks pretty, though.

Here's the lowdown on some tough or interesting answers and clues:
  • 22A: ConAgra spray (PAM). Eww. Makes it sound like a pesticide rather than a cooking spray, doesn't it? I'll stick with butter and olive oil, thanks. (And I'll pass on the OLIVE PIT, or 33D: Salad leftover.)
  • 27A: They usually lose at war (TREYS). Treys are playing cards, the three of diamonds/spades/hearts/clubs.
  • 29A: Low-fat breakfast brand (SPECIAL K). Terrific crossword entry...but as stomach entries go, I prefer Frosted Flakes.
  • 44A: "Saga of the Greenlanders" hero (LEIF). Who doesn't like Vikings? Not those subjected to Viking pillaging, I suppose. Anyone in their 40s now thinks of just one thing when they see the name LEIF:

    If he was "made for dancing," why is this dancing so uninspired and...wan? The 10- to 12-year-old boys at my son's day camp last-day talent show yesterday, they were workin' it. You might think boys that age would be shy about dancing in public, but they each took a turn to showboat. They were much better than the girls were.
  • 50A: Name from a Hebrew word for "God is with us" (EMANUEL). What? A name meaning clue when Rahm EMANUEL is currently so well-known?
  • 52A: Of more interest to a nitpicker (PETTIER). It's awkward to clue those -ER and -EST comparative words. Coincidentally, potential mistakes in crossword clues are of great interest to nitpickers.
  • 55A: Brobdingnagian (IMMENSE). IMMENSE is a less-than-thrilling word, but Brobdingnagian? Love it! It's from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Brobdingnag, one of the many fictional lands Swift concocted, is where giants live. Lilliput is home to the wee Lilliputians. The Houyhnhnms are horses, superior to humans, a.k.a. Yahoos.
  • 56A: Some small suits (SPEEDOS). Ah, swimsuits. Business suits, playing card suits, executives, lawsuits—all other kinds of "suits" I thought about here.
  • 7D: Bookstore section (SELF-HELP). Hey! I wrote one of those books. But they put it in the puzzles and games section and not over in self-help. (Gratuitous self-plug. Ain't I a stinker?)
  • 21D: Northernmost national capital (REYKJAVIK). Ah, Iceland. Poor, bankrupt, formerly prosperous Iceland. I love its capital city for the nutty assortment of consonants.
  • 51D: Nuremberg negative (NIE). Okay, I took German, ja, and I got stumped here. Nein means "no." Nicht means "not." And neither of those is three letters long! The crossing answers eventually took me to NIE, which means "never."

Everything Else — 1A: Tops (BETTERS); 8A: Grows fond of (WARMS TO); 15A: City WNW of Cheyenne (LARAMIE); 16A: Sister of Iphigenia (ELECTRA); 17A: Predictably (AS USUAL); 18A: Ceremonious event (BANQUET); 19A: Peels (ZESTS); 20A: Réunion attendee (FRERE); 24A: Heat unit (THERM); 25A: Style (MODE); 26A: Caribbean export (RUM); 28A: Hood of "Our Gang" fame (DARLA); 31A: Bit of gossip (MORSEL); 32A: Place where a customer may be taken? (CLIP JOINT); 34A: Gel cap alternative (TABLET); 37A: Urban scavenger (ALLEY CAT); 41A: Miscalculated (ERRED); 42A: Like bighorns (OVINE); 43A: President of Pakistan, 1978-'88 (ZIA); 45A: Sunday outing (DRIVE); 46A: 1950s-'60s TV quiz show host (MARX); 47A: Internet annoyance (LAG); 48A: Product of a fault (QUAKE); 49A: Helvetica's lack (SERIF); 54A: Emit (RADIATE); 57A: Test the concentration of, in chem lab (TITRATE); 1D: Apparel with insignias, at times (BLAZERS); 2D: Backs off (EASES UP); 3D: Words to a skeptic (TRUST ME); 4D: Decorator's asset (TASTE); 5D: Layers of green eggs (EMUS); 6D: River valley formation (RIA); 8D: Units of magnetic flux (WEBERS); 9D: Elevator button (ALARM); 10D: Filmmaker Clair (RENE); 11D: 1974 John Wayne title role (MCQ); 12D: Dazes (STUPORS); 13D: Old sewing machine part (TREADLE); 14D: Common haggis ingredient (OATMEAL); 24D: Baldness, e.g. (TRAIT); 25D: Best Picture of 1955 (MARTY); 27D: Like many a backsplash (TILED); 28D: Charitable organization, e.g. (DONEE); 30D: Symbol seen in viola music (C CLEF); 31D: Creator of Heffalumps (MILNE); 34D: They have a lot of bills (TELLERS); 35D: Garmin display (AREA MAP); 36D: Fighting force (BRIGADE); 38D: Winter Palace resident (CZARINA); 39D: Least substantial (AIRIEST); 40D: Exempt, in a way (TAX-FREE); 42D: Papal vestments (ORALES); 45D: Because of (DUE TO); 46D: Coin collector? (METER); 48D: Beyond stereo (QUAD); 49D: Acct. summary (STMT.); 53D: One of the "big four" record labels (EMI).


Unknown said...

Seriously, OATMEAL in Haggis? I *never* would have guessed that, but it was the only word that worked. Who knew?!? And who knew EMUS laid green eggs? Learned them both today. Only real mis-step was Blouses (tops)for BETTERS, thought for sure I was right when BLAZERS appeared.

I enjoyed this one very much - nothing sizzling, but a good workout and satisfying to finish. CLIPJOINT has a 1940's feel, loved it. Could have done without SPEEDOS, though. Ick.

Thanks, Orange!

John said...

I enjoyed this puzzle. It was really on my wavelength. Tried TIDBIT for MORSEL. Wanted CLEANERS for CLIPJOINT. Had FERALCAT for ALLEYCAT

WEBERS, THERM, and TITRATE were gimmies.

All in all a very enjoyable diversion for a saturday.

Rex Parker said...

OATMEAL threw me too, but it's absolutely correct. Kept trying to get STOMACH or INTESTINE to fit.

This puzzle took me longer than any LAT has taken me since this blog began. Still nowhere near as tough as the avg. NYT Saturday, but definitely a step in the right direction.

With exception of godawful STMT, I liked this puzzle.

Orange said...

@Rex, that's odd. This puzzle took me the pretty much the same amount of time as most of the Saturday LAT crosswords in the last couple months.

Anonymous said...

I had to work hard on this one. How is 20a FRERE a reunion attendee? And couldn't PETTIER have been better clued? Liked OLIVEPIT and CLIPJOINT, had style for TASTE for a little while and didn't know what Garmin was. Took a while but finally got it.

Anonymous said...

EMANUEL, LARAMIE, ALLEYCAT, and REYKJAVIK made for a quick start. Knew OATMEAL was in haggis for I had it -- once, and that was enough. Loved seeing DARLA, the little cutie who stood her own with all those boys. Good comments ORANGE!

PuzzleGirl said...

I enjoyed this one and agree it was harder than LATs have been lately. Here's me about 10 minutes in: "Oh crap! I have to know how to spell REYKJAVIK?"

Anon 6:49: The accent in réunion means it's a French word so the answer will be French also. FRERE = brother.

shrub5 said...

This was a juicy puzzle with twists and turns galore. I laughed at SPEEDOS. And again when I ended up with ALLEYTATS because I had spelled 38D as TSARINA.

Made some missteps with SEUSS before MILNE and leftover salad DRESSING before (the much better) OLIVEPIT.

I have one teensy nit: I don't consider ZESTS equivalent to Peels. If one zests a citrus fruit, only the very outermost colored portion of the peel is scraped off to be used in flavoring, avoiding the pith which is bitter. (I hope this comment doesn't place me in the PETTIER category.)

I did a confirmation google to verify OATMEAL was in haggis. The ingredient list for haggis does not pass the breakfast test.....

Carol said...

This is the first puzzle in a long time that I wasn't able to finish. Did Google haggis and found oatmeal among the other disgusting ingredients. I would think one would have to be very needy, indeed, to think about combining those items and then actually eating it!

Jeffrey said...

Same as PuzzleGirl for me. I know its RECKJAVIK! REKKJAVIC! Iceland! AARGH! Nice puzzle, agree it was long for an LAT Saturday. That's a good thing.

Anonymous said...

PUZZLE GIRL Thanks! Was only thinking school reunions and at my all girls school had amies but did not think of them as soeurs. Family reunions! Gotcha!

Brendan Emmett Quigley said...

This one offered no resistance whatsoever. Biggest beef with it? I think we've seen every one of the entries many many times over. Where's the new stuff? Is not the point of the themeless to showcase new entries/fun fill/etc.?

KarmaSartre said...

I enjoyed it. Got off on the wrong paw with Uniform in Blazers spot, and not knowing Mcq or Webers messed me up in the upper right. Reykjavik always looks like its been in a reyk. Hard to think of Big Horns as sheepish.

Denise said...

The oatmeal soaks up the "juices" of the "other stuff" before it is loaded up into the intestines. Yummie.

Nice puzzle --


Finished it !!!! Yeaaaaa!!!!
But needed that old A to Z Dictionary (Schaffer's). Boooo !!!!

Brobdingnagian... huh?
Thank you, Orange, for that excellent explanation of brobdingnagian... now I know, but sure wish I could pronounce it. Then I could tell people that I have a brobdingnagian tummy and they'll never know what I mean.

"Some small suits" (56a)... very clever but I sure tried every other possibility for suits.

I was once told by a Scot that you never want to know what's in haggis, "it's gude,just eat it laddy". Well I took his advice and so I never knew that oatmeal was a common haggis ingredient.

Once I figured out 21d (REYKJAVIK) and 32a (CLIPJOINT), the puzzle became unlocked and everything else started to fall in place. I always try to get the centermost crosses in the beginning.

Notice that Réunion has an accent mark... this clues that it has to do with France. Yep, Réunion is one of the overseas départements of France. It's also a John Wayne movie,"Réunion in France". Now Frere means brother in French. WOW, I eventually figured out this devious clue. Knowing a little French is a huge asset to crossworders.

Speaking of blouse for tops, I actually had BLOUSE for "apparel with insignias" (1d), because a military jacket is usually referred to as a BLOUSE. Well, in time BLAZER won out due to the crosses.

Another enlightenment for me... I never knew that EMUS (5d) laid green eggs. I've read Dr. Suess's "Green Eggs and Ham" to my kids and never thought much about where green eggs come from.

I tried and tried to get FANONS to work for 42d (ORALES), but finally ceded to those great SW crosses.

Barry Silk is one of my faves and this puzzle kept me enthralled while eating a yummy breakfast (green eggs and ham).... oh yeah, and some "bra" Swedish Pancakes.

Anonymous said...

Solvers on the other blog seem to agree this puzzle was a really tough one.
Can't please everybody, right?


Joon said...

i have no idea whether this one was tough. it felt like i was flying through it, never got stuck, and as brendan says, it offered no resistance. but when i looked up after finishing, it took me slightly longer than a typical LAT saturday. not sure where the time went.

in any event, i liked the puzzle. SPECIAL K crossing REYKJAVIK is pretty special. the rest of it wasn't, but it wasn't bad either.

Anonymous said...

Some interesting and not so interesting fill, but a decent Saturday LAT nonetheless.

Clip joint reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry's dad was in town for a doctor's appointment and thought his wallet had been stolen while he was at the office. Good times !

mac said...

I liked this puzzle a lot, but then I usually like Barry Silk's work. The grid looks beautiful, with these enormous diagonals. Wouldn't it be interesting to have a long message going from the NE to the the SW? I know, not on Themeless Saturday.

@OhioGeek: I think oatmeal is the only ingredient to make haggis palatable; they do the same with black pudding in Ireland. Talking about travels, Villa d'Este is one of the best hotels I've ever stayed at.

I'm off to Holland in a couple of hours, land of the speedo's and nothing at all if you like.

Villa d'Este is one of the best hotels I've ever stayed at.

shrub5 said...

@mac: have a GREAT trip!! Hope you'll be able to check in from time to time.

PurpleGuy said...

I thought this was a pretty easy puzzle for a Saturday. Enjoyed the scrabblyness of the answers.
It seemed to offer the same "resistance" as other LAT Saturday puzzles.

Eat too much at a BANQUET and you're likely to end up with STUPORS. Although not from eating the OATMEAL.

@mac- have a safe and wonderful trip. Hope we hear from you once in a while !

Anonymous said...

This puzzle is delightful. The entertaining clues already have ample pop-culture allusions. I welcomed the chance to answer some classical lit references in 16a and 44a. My only quibble is the clue," Low-fat breakfast brand." Special K refers to the Kellog brand, just as Post Toasties refers to Post. The cereal's name is not the same as its brand, although the brand is part of its name. I had to sacrifice my petty distinction before solving 29a.

Jimmie said...

Haggis is far from a low fat breakfast.

There is a legend about the Irish many centuries ago, who invaded Scotland and were about to take it when they ate some haggis. They immediately went back to Ireland.

eileen said...

I was really overwhelmed by this one. But it seemed "fair play" for a Saturday according to the comments. I can't wait for Monday as I really need some validation as an up-and-coming solver!

fergus said...

This puzzle brought too much redemption after being defeated by the NYT. Seemed like there were very few well-forked decisions to make. CAPLET and TABLET; ROADMAP and AREAMAP were the only ones to give me pause.

WEBER is the only physics unit or constant guy I recall nothing about. All I can think of is black-body radiation from a BBQ.

Sfingi said...

@shrub5 Haggis passes for breakfast.
There's an equal amount of onions help a lot. Can't be taken w/o whiskey chaser. Should have seen what they ate before the Italians showed them what to do with the wild haggis. They still depend on the Italians for a good meal.

If Mr. Silk told me the Pope wore jammies on Good Friday, I'd have to believe him.