SATURDAY, October 3, 2009—Bruce Venzke & Stella Daily

THEME: No theme today—Just a themeless Saturday puzzle

So here's how "This Week in L.A. Times Crosswording" went: Monday was Monday. Tuesday was Monday. Wednesday was Monday. Thursday was Tuesday, maybe even Wednesday—and so was Friday. And then Saturday, which ought to be the week's toughest puzzle, drops down to Tuesday level.

It's astounding that newspapers might've gotten complaints about the Saturday puzzle being harder than the Tuesday puzzle, isn't it? I mean, it's great that more beginners can tackle the puzzle, but the rest of us loved the L.A. Times crossword exactly as it was. We don't want an entire week of Tuesday difficulty. We'd at least like Friday and Saturday to reach Thursday NYT difficulty. Is that too much to concede, that the puzzle provide something for everyone?

That's the rationale behind the N.Y. Times' difficulty escalation—get 'em hooked on the Monday and Tuesday puzzle, let 'em build their skills, and they'll progress towards doing the late-week puzzles.

Yes, there are many solvers who don't even bother trying the harder puzzles. There are also many people who skip the easy puzzles because they prefer more challenge. The NYT captures both groups, while Tribune/LAT seems ready to jettison the latter faction. It's disappointing. Rex and PuzzleGirl and I wanted to use this blog to coach newer solvers, to teach them the crosswordese and unveil the tricks behind the tricky clues so that these solvers could triumph over ever more challenging puzzles. And now? Sigh.

Anyway. On with today's puzzle! It's loaded with 15-letter answers—a triple-stack in the middle embraced by pairs of 15s above and below. They're all clued straightforwardly, as are the shorter answers. Not a single question-marked clue in the bunch! (And it's almost certain that Stella and Bruce originally wrote tougher clues for the puzzle.) Here are the big entries:
  • 14A: "This can't be true!" ("YOU'RE NOT SERIOUS!"). I prefer the McEnroesque "You cannot be serious!"
  • 17A: 25-Across's WWII command (EUROPEAN THEATER). Who is 25A? DDE, or WWII general who became pres.—Dwight D. Eisenhower.
  • 31A: Scorned notion (HARE-BRAINED IDEA). The Hare and Rabbit Anti-Defamation League prefers the term bird-brained.
  • 37A: Oil and vinegar concoction (ITALIAN DRESSING). Make the vinegar balsamic, please. My kid, he'll eat anything if there's balsamic vinegar on it.
  • 38A: "Back off!" ("DON'T GET TOO CLOSE!").
  • 55A: Title guy asked to "play a song for me," in a Byrds hit (MR. TAMBOURINE MAN). I...honestly don't think I know this song. Really. Video time! Wow, Bob Dylan kinda looks like Adam Sandler in that performance.

  • 57A: Cause of many traveling delays (AIRPORT SECURITY). The TSA line is excellent for training people to be obedient sheep who dare not question authority, isn't it?
What else?
  • 4D: High martial arts rank (BROWN BELT). This puzzle was so easy, I mucked things up by putting in BLACK BELT and still finished in an easy-Wednesday time. DO I DARE (51A: "Is it worth the risk?") include my solving time here? Seems like a commenter hollers at me for arrogance whenever I do that. I't's at Crossword Fiend if you're interested.
  • 9D: Whack anew (REHIT). RE-no.
  • 11D: Nincompoop (TOTAL IDIOT). Uh, is that a thing? "Complete idiot" sounds better to me, but I quizzed my husband on words to precede "idiot" and he said "total."
  • 24D: Ollie North's '80s "affair" (IRAN-CONTRA). Excellent answer. How many of you saw "affair" in quotation marks and thought of Fawn Hall?
  • 47D: Japanese aborigine (AINU). I didn't even see this one while solving. Old-school crosswordese! It doesn't get much play these days. You can read about them here. The Ainu don't look Japanese at all.
Crosswordese 101: Jean AUEL is the 12D: "The Mammoth Hunters" author. Her first book in the "Earth's Children" series was The Clan of the Cave Bear, and my mom bought me that for Christmas '80 in hardcover. Ayla the Cro-Magnon girl wound up living with Neanderthals, and I totally dug the book. I read the next two in the series but lost interest in adulthood. There was at least one movie, which I heard was dreadful. (So dreadful, in fact, that I couldn't bring myself to post a picture of Daryl Hannah as Ayla.) This was Ms. AUEL's second (or maybe third?) appearance in a crossword this week, and some people commented that they didn't know who she was—so Jean "Surname Is 75% Vowels" AUEL seemed a good choice for Crosswordese 101. (Plus, her Wikipedia bio told me she's a member of MENSA, that 29D: Club for smart guys and girls.

Everything Else — 1A: Many a Yemeni (ARAB); 5A: __ Rouge (KHMER); 10A: Sch. support groups (PTAS); 18A: Algae on the beach (SEAWEED); 19A: Semaphore user's output (SIGNALS); 20A: "__ Blu Dipinto Di Blu": 1958 hit (NEL); 21A: Implement (TOOL); 22A: Nursery bed (CRIB); 28A: Devilish tot (IMP); 39A: SASE, e.g. (ENC.); 40A: Forever and a day, facetiously (EON); 41A: Not much (A TAD); 42A: Spoken (ORAL); 46A: Terminal-to-hotel transport (VAN); 48A: Kind of fingerprint or code (GENETIC); 58A: Afternoon socials (TEAS); 59A: Davis of "Do the Right Thing" (OSSIE); 60A: Words before ghost or doctor (SEE A); 1D: Tars' affirmatives (AYES); 2D: Licentious sort (ROUE); 3D: Certain something (AURA); 5D: Get ready to pray (KNEEL); 6D: 1950s tennis great Lew (HOAD); 7D: Part of a range: Abbr. (MTN.); 8D: Inexact nos. (ESTS); 10D: Beethoven's instrument (PIANO); 13D: Lith. et al., once (SSRS); 15D: French for "sword" (ÉPÉE); 16D: __ Park: Queens area near Forest Hills (REGO); 22D: Scold (CHIDE); 23D: Boca __ (RATON); 25D: "Divine Comedy" writer (DANTE); 26D: Inflicted upon (DID TO); 27D: Collapsed company chronicled in the 2005 documentary subtitled "The Smartest Guys in the Room" (ENRON); 30D: Alerted, as a doctor (PAGED); 32D: Important (BIG); 33D: "Norma __" (RAE); 34D: Want-ad abbr. (EEO); 35D: U.S. Army medal (DSC); 36D: Martha's Vineyard natives, e.g. (ISLANDERS); 43D: Gets as a return (REAPS); 44D: Prefix with sphere (ATMO-); 45D: Book, to BolÌvar (LIBRO); 46D: Express, as an opinion (VOICE); 48D: Exam for a Wharton Sch. hopeful (GMAT); 49D: Port on its own lake (ERIE); 50D: No-frills beds (COTS); 51D: Eins plus zwei (DREI); 52D: Gallic girlfriend (AMIE); 53D: Interest percentage (RATE); 54D: Pop musician from County Donegal (ENYA); 56D: __ Constitution (USS).


Anonymous said...

Orange -- I totally agree. Why can't LAT go back to "the way it was" when puzzles were a challenge. These current ones are such fluff I have resorted to searching online to find some harder puzzles to pique my interest. I am all for more people becoming interested in crossword puzzles but let them learn the hard way, as I did. This kow-tow reflects the growing trend in our society -- no one fails.

Parsan said...

The puzzle was good but the clues were uninspiring. I would guess they wrote cleverer clues that were changed. No look-ups so it was easy going.

Also had black for BROWN and Ike for DDE. In the book, didn't Ayla discover fire?

Could not believe I knew MR TAMBOURINE MAN. Probably the only pop song of that decade that I know. Usually freeze on pop culture, even going back 30 years, but knew ENYA from puzzles.

Once TOTAL IDIOT was a too-often heard comment of one of my teen-agers.

@Orange--good write-up!


Not my idea of a good puzzle!
Especially for a Saturday which should be a lot more challenging. When a puzzle has absolutely no humorous clues, worse yet, no diversionary clues; then it gets a low score from me. I think this was the first time in quite a while that I found no need to Google. Not even a New-word-of-the-day... yikes! I think I'll subscribe to Highlights Magazine and work those kiddie crosswords.
I had a problem with SEAWEED for {Algae on the beach] and SEEA (60a) is a big ugh! Oh well, having said all that, it's time to VOLARE ! Orange, your writeup was absolutely wonderful. You indeed can sew a silk purse from a sow's ear. ...And hearing Bob Dylan singing that upbeat Mr. Tambo made my day. Thank you for continuing to perk us whiners up.


@Orange, I'd rather alienate the bunnies than the Birds (ala Hitchcock).
Get with it! Everything today is prefaced with "total".
And BTW, your writeup is totally awesome.

Rex Parker said...

"If I can't do it, it must be elitist."

Failure has its upsides. I would never be the good solver I am now if I hadn't failed and failed and failed and failed to solve many a Wed., Th., Fri., and Sat. puzzle. Hell, it was years before I could solve a Sat. at all, and several more years before I was batting .500 on late-weekers.

I feel bad for constructors who see their work gutted of its teeth, to mix metaphors.


Parsan said...

Just for the fun of it, how about writing our own clues? For 27A "Bocelli preparing for a concert?" Anyone else want to try, or am I a TOTAL IDIOT?

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is the reason, but the Chicago Tribune switched to the LA Time crossword a couple of months ago. The first time I tried a Thursday puzzle, I was shocked. Friday was impossible. It took me a couple of weeks to see the progression. So maybe the complaints are from us Chicago folks. Also at first I noticed a lot of movie/hollywood references, that I don't see anymore

The Corgi of Mystery said...

On a happier note, the Bongo picture is awesome.

Anonymous said...

55A Gentleman percussionist?

Crockett1947 said...

@parsan Ayla didn't discover fire, but she did discover that flint could produce a spark that could be used to start a fire.

Sam said...

You know the reasons that the LA Times caved in to the complaints from various newspapers. So rather than continuing to bewail the fact, the most constructive suggestion you can continue to make -- as you've already done -- is to urge people to loudly complain to their newspapers by mail.
We've got to counteract the effect from those earlier complainants or this puzzle will be replaced before we know it by something far far worse!

Sfingi said...

Very easy. Yesterday's NYT was so hard (for me), I got only 8! Yeesh.

@Orange - the article on the Ainu was very interesting. I knew they were hairy and suffered prejudice, but the genetics was a surprise. So much new genetics - some follows the fairy tale and linguistic history of Europeans, as expounded by the Grimm Bros; and the varying history of conquered and conqueror, feminine vs masculine. 45 yrs. ago I wanted to go into genetics, but things are happening only now.

How about Mafia interest % - "vig" for vigorish.

Nel blu di pinto di blu (Volare) written and sung by the late, handsome Domenico Modugno, a Sicilian wannabee (actually Barrese), who moved to Lampedusa I., (Madonna did also) and won the very first Grammies for "Volare" (to fly). Hubby says the words were considered goofy in Italy (blue painted with blue). Other songs I like are "God, How I Love You," and "Lazzarella." All better than "Tambourine Man." DM was a good guy with charities.

Thanx for German addition problem. Threw us a bone, a crumb.

edith b said...

I think this will be my last LA Times crosword until this situation resolves itself. I don't really enjoy "simple" puzzles but I do them at the NY Times because of the weekly progression towards weekend difficulty to support the puzzle.

That was how I was doing the LA Times but it looks like the easy puzzle concept has prevailed and I don't wish to support that any further.

I liked this blog for its effort to educate solvers to persevere but there doesn't seem to be a point to that anymore and I wonder how long this blog will remain under these circumstances.

Please! This is my opinion of things and I don't want people who enjoy easy puzzles to take offense as that is not my intention.

Anonymous said...

I thought I'd give the LAT Saturday puzzle another go, but it's not a lot of fun solving a puzzle with a Monday level difficulty. The fill and cluing was uninspired as well. Sigh the dumbing down continues...

Word before doctor or ghost: See a...groan.

I guess I'll check back in a few weeks to see if any changes have been made. I'm not optimistic though

doc moreau said...

Fully expected Orange to link us to howling rendition of "Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu!"(Volare) by Paul McCartney on YouTube.
An yes. I believe she is preaching to the choir when she berates the pablum these LAT puzzles have become.
This particular choir member has voiced his opinion to the Tribune (owners of the LAT) at consumerservices@tribune.com

backbiter said...

@edith b
That is exactly what I said last week. However, I'm a glutton for punishment. Why not have two puzzles labeled "beginner" and "advanced"? Let the solver decide. I felt like I had to get dressed for work before I remembered today was Saturday. D'oh! Gonna solve a diagramless and cryptic now to feel better. LOL

shrub5 said...

Yes, another fairly easy one but I did admire the construction with 7 wall-to-wall answers. A few more tricky or subtle clues could have lifted this to a Saturday-worthy level.

@Parsan: loved your alternate clue! I think you meant 37A (not 27A).

My nephew would use the answer for 11D: TOTAL IDIOT as a clue for 21A: TOOL

New words I encountered today: AINU, GMAT, HOAD and REGO. I just learned from wiki that Rego Park was named by its developers using a contraction of Real Good.

Anonymous said...

With no disrespect to BV&SD == 38a. "Stay away from Glenn?"

ddbmc said...

Sigh! Way too easy for a Saturday. May have solved this one even faster than Monday!

Dear Tribune Media Services, et Al:
We, the crossword solving public, are in deep mourning over the loss of your previously challenging crossword puzzles. We delighted in the word play and clue obfuscation that formerly appeared in this puzzle. Where puzzles used to dare us to dig into the deeper recesses of our grey matter, they only now elicit facile and adroit answers.

We beg you, dear Sirs and Madams, give us back a well-articulated, strenuous, demanding, unyielding, intricate, arduous and formidable puzzle, so that we, the people, may not be reduced to dribbling, total idiots. Medical professionals concur, that solving crossword puzzles helps to build new pathways in our medulla oblongata’s and may help to ward off the effects of dementia and Alzheimer's disease!

Solving progressively difficult puzzles will also help us to remember where to buy newspapers and who the advertisers are that support our papers! But, alas, we fear, that due to the decline in the difficulty of our beloved LAT CW, we will not be able to hang on to our minds much longer!
LAT CW Lovers
Copy, paste, sign your name.
Tribune Media Services
435 N. Michigan Avenue
Suite 1500
Chicago, IL 60611 USA
Phone: +1-312-222-4444
Fax: +1-312-222-2581
(@Orange, is this the correct contact address?) Or should we just contact our local newspaper?) I am sure the more assured wordsmiths here could improve this note immensely!
Thanks, @Doc Moreau: consumerservices@tribune.com

BTW, Mr. Tambourine Man, made famous by Roger McGuinn (the singer in the video) and the Byrds, was written by Bob Dylan. David Crosby is the long haired fellow in the video and was a former member of The Byrds, before joining CSN. Saw this song performed at the Fillmore East eons ago!
Sincere apologies to fellow bloggers for the length of this diatribe.


A good alternate clue for 31a {LAT CW decision}.
A good alternate clue for 27d {My big loss}.
A good alternate clue for 25a {Overused general clue}
I know there's a very funny clue for 37a ITALIAN DRESSING, but I don't dare post it.

chefbea said...

I agree with everyone - way too easy - but of course I finished it in record time and with nary a google.

If Djinn is around - saw your post a few days ago and went to your site - loved it!!!Cake wrecks. Of course my cakes are all perfect :-)

john farmer said...

49D: Port on its own lake (ERIE).

That had me thinking. Could there be a port on a different lake? If there were a port on another lake, it would still be on its own lake. Chicago is on Lake Michigan, but it's still a port on its own lake. If they moved Chicago to Erie, then it might be a port on a different lake. But not after it got there. In any case, that would be unusual.

bunny said...

Here's a piece of discouraging news: On another crossword blog, a poster said he read in his newspaper (Kentucky) this morning a letter to the editor complaining of the difficulty of the CURRENT LAT puzzles!!! We'd better get busy and get our letters sent!

Orange said...

@doc moreau, I sent a letter off to that e-mail address this morning. Thanks!

@bunny: Good gravy, are those solvers on crack? Here is CC's post about a Saturday TMS puzzle from last year. That puzzle contained a whirlwind of obscure crap in it. Quiz yourself: Can you guess the clues for NIPA, GALIPOT, CRUZEIRO, INTI, SGD, TIFT, POMOS, LER, IRO, and AZAN?

God forbid we instead have a Saturday puzzle with more familiar vocabulary, made difficult through clues that require flexible thinking.

fergus said...

The last couple of grids I've looked at were fine. How about an alternative set of Clues, though the way I've seen somewhere else?

SethG said...

I agree with y'all about the difficulty, and have had thoughts similar to edith b's.

But what I find truly astounding is that you were unfamiliar with Mr Tambourine Man. I have a slight preference for Dylan's version, and this one is pretty special and worth a full listen as well.

Crockett1947 said...

Orange at 12:19 said "@bunny: Good gravy, are those solvers on crack? Here is CC's post about a Saturday TMS puzzle from last year. That puzzle contained a whirlwind of obscure crap in it. Quiz yourself: Can you guess the clues for NIPA, GALIPOT, CRUZEIRO, INTI, SGD, TIFT, POMOS, LER, IRO, and AZAN?"

Who do you think is on crack? Who are "those solvers?" I don't understand the point of your post comparing a Wayne Williams edited puzzle from a Saturday to the current LAT Rich Norris edited puzzle for a Saturday. Care to explain?

"Medical professionals concur, that solving crossword puzzles helps to build new pathways in our medulla oblongata’s and may help to ward off the effects of dementia and Alzheimer's disease!" May want to edit this by dropping the comma -- don't want to leave a bad impression.

Orange said...

@CrockettL: "Those solvers" would be anyone writing their newspaper to complain that the LA Times puzzle is still too hard. The complainers are those who were used to the Williams TMS puzzle and find the Norris LAT puzzle too challenging, and yet they weren't whooping and hollering and upsetting their newspapers with horrid TMS puzzles like that one.

Argyle said...

I hope anyone that goes to C.C.'s blog for that day, you scroll down to the comments amd see who the biggest whiner was.

P said...

@Argyle=I would call him not a whiner but a justified complainer.

Orange said...

@Argyle: Rex did that puzzle because I had e-mailed him about how horrible it was. He wasn't "whining"—he was criticizing a terrible puzzle by pointing out the ways it stank and fell outside the mainstream of quality crosswords.

Rex and I and countless others love crosswords. We love tackling a good mental challenge, honing our skills, learning, being amused and entertained. We loved the L.A. Times crossword the way it used to be. The TMS-ification of the L.A. Times puzzle? We deplore it. If we wanted a mindless or easy puzzle, we'd do the free Universal puzzle online. With so few crossword challenges remaining, why must we lose another one? What happened to the pursuit of excellence, the glorification of learning?

ddbmc said...

Thanks, @Crocket1947. Appreciate the edit. Sent my letter this AM, too.

Charles Bogle said...

AINU AUEL and ENYA were new to me and I had to google them, which really was a bummer because the theme answers struck me as so juvenile and lame. Thank you Orange and RP for keeping the dialogue going about this LAT puzzle's seeming decline. As I stated once before, personally I'd love to see this puzzle strike a mid-point between what it has become and what the NYT is. Eg, personally I can't yet do Fri or Sat NYT (or last week's Thurs by Quigley that everybody raved about). That's fine. I'll try to get better as RP recounted, learn from the blog etc. In sp doing it would be great for me to have something on Fri and Sat I can do w a minimum amount of googling and in an hour or so. That shouldn't turn off the desired readership, should it?

Argyle said...

What the LAT is now isn't anything like what the TMS was. You agree?

Anonymous said...

weeks of complaints! send your e-mails and letters and be heard! and why not play the game---17A clue="today's puzzle"-YOURE NOT SERIOUS!

Orange said...

@Argyle: I agree. But I think there are people agitating to make it like the TMS puzzle. Certainly it's hardly anything like it used to be. The Saturday puzzle used to take me twice as long as a Monday puzzle, and now it takes the same amount of time. The puzzles aren't filled with lazy crap, no, but the life has been sucked out of the clues.

Argyle said...

This is the way I see it. The old TMS had obscure, arcane, archaic answers with plain written clues. People would go to their references and easily find the answers. The switch to LAT befuddled them because now they had to parse the clue, even though most answers were "in the language".

Two different philosophies. Nobody's happy but I'm afraid it will come down to what sells newspapers.

(I still think the old LAT was the better, once I got use to flower for river.)

Orange said...

@Argyle, you've hit on a pet theory of mine. I think the anti-LAT people want a puzzle in which any tough spot can be filled with the aid of a crossword dictionary. It's the crossword dictionary vs. no crossword dictionary dichotomy.

mac said...

I agree with the "too easy" crowd, I only had "cab" for "van" for a moment, the rest was so easy that I never saw the clue and answer for

We can complain all we want, but the paper is going to do whatever sells more subscriptions and papers. The problem is that Rex, PG and Orange had a LAT puzzle in mind to base a blog on that was lot more interesting than the current version. I just hope that if they give up on it, they will find a better puzzle to use their format on. Crossynergy anyone? Todays was a Doug Peterson, quite snappy.

Quentinc said...

I suspect we can look forward to having all words and grammatical constructions that are beyond a 6th grade reading level soon banned from the TMS papers as well. Granted, these are desperate times for most print newspapers, but I can't help but feel that they are participating in digging their own graves. There used to be a level of depth in the LAT that one could not replicate by surfing Internet news sites, but that seems to be gone. Now, consistent with the dumbing down of the crossword puzzle, the front page of the LAT consists mainly of "human interest" stories. (I guess I'm not that human, because they aren't of much interest to me!) Even with the alleged "hard news" stories, there's always some cutesy lead-in, meaning that you have to skip to the jump page before reaching any of the five "W's." Sad times, indeed.

florida grandma said...

I've been out of town for a few weeks and was so hoping this problem would be resolved by now. I am a newbie puzzler and have learned so much from this blog and from striving to solve the LAT end-of-week puzzles. I so hope that LAT will see the light and go back to previous format. Yes, the latter weekday puzzles are hard, but that is how you learn. I also solve sudoku puzzles and don't even bother with the early week ones, because they are too easy. Give me a Friday or Saturday any day!!!
Please, Rex, Puzzle Girl, and Orange don't give up the blog--we love you and learn so much from you.
florida grandma

Anonymous said...

I think we are beating a dead horse!

Joon said...

no, the horse is not dead. change is possible. yes we can! yes we can!

... er, sorry, got carried away for a minute there.

idea: i nominate rex, orange, and puzzlegirl (who, if i'm not mistaken, receive the puzzle a few days before the general public) to re-clue thursdays, fridays, and saturdays to have the kind of bite we've been missing these last few weeks. then post the puzzle with new clues and let the rest of us go to town on it. this would be in lieu of blogging the puzzle on those days.

meantime, we'll keep writing letters and hopefully someday they'll let rich go back to doing his job so that rex/orange/PG won't have to. it might take slightly longer than blogging, but we will love you for it. we'll shower you with encomium in the comment box. the bards will ever sing of it.

Anonymous said...

I know it might not be a popular suggestion, but kill the LACC. Too much ink for what has become a worthless puzzle. Why bother?

Blog about it on your own sites, but really it's not even blog worthy. When newbies find the puzzles ridiculously easy something is wrong. Don't blog them, reference them, etc. Not saying it will work, but it might. Nothing to lose anyway, since fewer and fewer people who post here have anything good to say about the recent puzzles.