WEDNESDAY, May 23, 2007 - Bruce Venzke and Stella Daly

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Relative difficulty: Easy to Medium

THEME: Quip from a hunter = :(

The only thing that put this puzzle at a Wednesday level of difficulty was its quip-ness - hard to get those long Acrosses until you've filled in a lot of Downs. I actually got the first half of the quip, parts 1 and 2, quickly. Then part 4. The last half of part 3 was the last part to give. But as I said, the non-theme fill was a cinch, more Tuesday than Wednesday. I had a little trouble getting into the NW and finally polishing off the mid-SE, but overall, no sweat. Just over 6 minutes solving time today.

The "quip":

I TRIED TO BUY (21A)
A CAMOUFLAGE SUIT (27A)
BUT I COULDN'T FIND (46A)
ONE ANYWHERE (54A)

Take my wife, please!

The problem with your average quip puzzle (and this one is no better than average) is that non-theme fill tends to suck - all originality is sacrificed on the altar of the quip. Check out the crosswordese: SWAB, HALO, ADEN, ALEE, ESAU, ABED, SASE, TET, ION, OAF, HIED. In the miserable SW corner alone, we have OSLO, NEAR, ERIE, SERA, LAIC, and ORES - a veritable slag heap of craptacular fill. This is not to mention all the highly unimaginative fill, e.g. SHOE, FEAR, CENT, TOE, etc.


Despite its horrible quip nature, this puzzle has some fabulous fill, most notably 24A: Composer Rimsky-Korsakov (Nikolai), whose "Capriccio Espagnol" I listen to often (thanks, Andrew); 49D: Kind of statement, to a programmer (If / Then); and 50D: Vegetarian's stipulation ("No meat"), which is very original. I had -MEAT, and without looking at the clue, I filled in COME AT - NO MEAT is so much better. I'm a fake vegetarian, in that I don't eat meat or poultry, but I eat fish (which technically makes me a "pescavegetarian," but that name is soooo pretentious that I can't bring myself to use it).

BONDAGE (9D: Slave's state) is nice too, though the clue could have been ... spicier. D CELLS was a little tough to uncover (48D: Some batteries). Have D CUPS ever been in the puzzle - would ... they ... pass the breakfast table test? If I saw D CUPS in the puzzle, I would most certainly exclaim HOLY COW (43D: "Geez Louise!"), if not something a little stronger. WADI (7D: Dry riverbed) is a very cool word that I know only from crosswords. There is only one answer in today's grid that I flat out didn't know - 47D: "Almost Paradise" author Susan (Isaacs). The only "Almost Paradise" I know is a generic power ballad from the mid-80's by Ann Wilson (half of Heart, and one of the greatest female rock vocalists of all time) and Mike Reno (uh, who? - oh my God he was the lead singer for Loverboy!).

"Almost paradise
We're knocking on heaven's door
Almost paradise
How could we ask for more?
I swear that I can see forever
In your eyes...
Paradise"

Speaking of cheesy pop songs, I ATE UP everything about the NW corner, especially Mr. SEDAKA (3D: Neil who wrote "Stupid Cupid"), who looks rather awesome standing next to ATOMIC (2D: Like some energy) and BANANA (1D: Yogurt flavor - random clue, btw). I would pay good money to go see "Neil SEDAKA and the ATOMIC BANANA," even if they insisted on closing the show with a cover of "Almost Paradise."

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

26 comments:

Alex 2:26 AM  

Yes, very easy today.

The only two minor pauses were that I initially put in IF ELSE rather than IF THEN. And I can never remember how to spell SEDAKA and always seem to do SADAKA first.

Didn't like the absolute randomness of BANANA as "yogurt flavor." That could be anything from plain to Boston Cream Pie.

Like EPSILON (Delta follower). Obvious but it eluded me until ---ILON. Was really trying to get an airline word in there.

I thin GNAR is a made up word. (Before someone quotes the dictionary at me, I know it's in there but I assume the dictionary is just in on the conspiracy.)

Rex Parker 6:14 AM  

Yes, we have seen (and grumbled about) GNAR recently at this site. I have gotten used to GNAR's presence, though I would vote him off the island if I could.

What I don't like is the convention of spelling TE HEE - I always imagined that first and second syllables had same vowel sound, so TE just looks wrong.

See also TEPEE.

TE = "The" in Maori, in case you are ever asked.


rp

Anonymous 6:55 AM  

Hi Rex:

Oh boy! A quip puzzle with lotsa c-wordese to boot!

Mike Reno! I used to work for him...and all the guys for Loverboy, I think, back in the 90's.

Fun times woo-hoo...

Pen Girl :)

mmpo 8:23 AM  

Having only recently (two or three months ago)signed up for the online crossword, and being a relative (three-year) newcomer to the NYT crossword, online or otherwise, I'm now working my way through the archives, which start in October 1996. (Strange to get the topical clues that are now 10-and-a-half years old and clues that refer to European currencies in the present tense...). The reason I bring this up is that just today, I did the puzzle from Sunday, Dec. 1, 1996, which is absolutely the most blatant example of how a quip puzzle calls down a s***load of fill. The quip in this case is actually an 84-letter synopsis of a novel, so it's not really a quip, but the result is the same...
Back to today.
For me GNAR crossing GSA was totally a stab in the dark, so I was delighted to get the understated "Thank you for playing" message on my first try. A few weeks ago, ADEN crossing WADI would have been similarly iffy, but ADEN is in the old noggin now...
And by the way, I still don't think I'll ever solve a puzzle in three minutes (I'm not even sure I can fill in the applet on a puzzle I've already solved in that time frame!), but I have been lopping 90-second chunks off my best Monday and Tuesday times (went from breaking the 10-minute barrier to solving a puzzle in seven minutes in very short order)...which I guess is my way of adding some spice to the process of solving easy puzzles.

Wendy 8:33 AM  

I am calling for a moratorium on all quip puzzles henceforth. Hate, hate, hate them! I don't care what the answer is and they make solving the puzzle a chore/snore/bore take your pick - which is the last thing it should be. Just IMOO.

Norrin2 8:46 AM  

Hey, did you notice that not only did Amy and (T)Rex make an appearance in this puzzle, but there's a bridge columnist at 25 and 6 Down?

Howard B 9:55 AM  

You know, I'm not a fan of quips myself, but this one had that sort of Stephen Wright kind of feel to it, so I didn't mind that too much.

You really want to tear out your hair, find an older Times puzzle compilation which contains 'stepquote' puzzles - where a longer quote usually runs diagonally, across _and_ down through the puzzle in a stairstep fashion. This resulted in clues reading only 'Part 4 of quote', 'Part 9 of quote', etc. etc., with each bend in the quote basically an unchecked letter between parts of the quote.
Often the quote or passage was a non-humorous, non-intuitive reference. Nasty, nasty stuff, with really obscure words filled in around throughout in order to accommodate it.

Now that's a puzzle type I'm glad to have started puzzling too recently to experience. May it rest in peace.

Orange 9:58 AM  

On the bright side, the NYT (and the Sun, LA Times, and CrosSynergy) crosswords don't feature quote/quip themes very often. The Simon & Schuster book collections are maybe 20% quote puzzles, which means I'm skipping about 20% of the puzzles in those books.

As Will Shortz explained it to me, one down side of quote puzzles is that there's just one "aha" per theme rather than several, which cuts down on the solver's delight. That Sunday poetry quote puzzle by Vic Fleming last month had six quotes and hence six "ahas," thereby cutting the onerousness quotient.

It's not a bad sport to look at a quote/quip puzzle and try to figure out what made the editor accept it. Hilarity? Excellence in construction? Overall quality of fill? Great cluing? Here, perhaps the quip amused Will (it amused me), or perhaps HOLY COW, the BANANA/SEDAKA/ATOMIC corner, and the OMAR/SHARIF combo tickled his fancy. Of course, some people simply loathe quote puzzles regardless.

Note also that the clue for 21-Across is [Start of a quip from a hunter], rather than merely [Start of a quip], nudging the solver towards guessing the object of the sentence in 27-Across. A little more crosswordy (in terms of deriving answers by interpreting clues) than the traditional "piece together the quote by the crossings" approach, no?

Orange 9:59 AM  

(Howard posted his comment while I was writing mine. Great additional elucidation on the topic!)

Howard B 10:57 AM  

Better said than I... great points. That seems to explain why I (and others, I suppose) sometimes enjoy quotes, and sometimes not - I hadn't thought of those things. For me, it has to be clever and funny, or otherwise the one payoff isn't quite the same. Both a blessing and a curse that we're spoiled by so many fun puzzles nowadays - I guess it raises the bar pretty high overall.

There was a really cool Sunday quote puzzle in a compilation book which contained one long excerpt from a Martin Luther King Jr. speech across the whole puzzle, divided perfectly into large, theme-answer sized chunks (the quote included 'the sons of slaves and the sons of slave owners', so as not to spoil, nor butcher the quote any further ...).

Don't know when it was published or by whom - was it a MLK Day/week puzzle? It was a great excerpt, and a pretty astounding feat to fit the entire thing verbatim into such a large puzzle. This sort of thing would be an exception to what was discussed.

Gotta run for the day. Happy solving.

Al Sanders 11:17 AM  

Howard,

Yes, I remember the "Step-Quote" puzzles and not very fondly. These puzzles were often found in the Challenger section of the old Dell puzzle mags (I'm talking late 1960's, early 1970's) and were usually constructed by Gene Maleska. Enough said.

For seem reason this puzzle didn't bother me as much as quote puzzles usually do. I always enjoy Stella and Bruce's fill and cluing. I also thought of Steven Wright when I got the quote, and he's definitely my favorite quote source for puzzles. This puzzle fell pretty easily for me, I think it was my record for a Wednesday as well as for a quote puzzle which usually takes me significantly longer than a non-quote puzzle.

mmpo 1:01 PM  

In the puzzle I referred to (Dec 1, 1996 in the archives), the passage was not even a quote, but a synopsis. Nothing clever or quotable or funny--and the author of the book cited was Mark Twain! (With Oscar Wilde, probably one of the top two providers of quotable literary witticisms in English-language literature.) The only satisfying moment was being able to conjure the book title (21 letters) based only on the first word in the 84-letter synopsis: Edward. OK, maybe a bit of satisfaction from piecing together the words of the synopsis, but not the kind you get from a clever little quip like the one in today's puzzle. (And btw, "Take my wife, please" was a dandy way to reproduce the vaudevillian rim shot in writing, Rex. I loved that!) All in all, that puzzle was a weedy garden, overrun with three-letter fill, and the main attraction was a tray of impatiens laid out in four neat, little rows among the weeds. :]

campesite 1:06 PM  

I'll forgive a quote puzzle if the fill is loaded with references to the theme. Or if it is funny, and I thought, as Al did, this was humorous in a Steven Wright way.
Not gung-ho on quotes from French political philosophers or goofy book jacket blurbs from some obscure biography.

john 1:45 PM  

We don't see a lot of quip/quote puzzles. I'd guess the Times runs two or three a month max, but the reaction is always quite predictable. I don't understand all the grumbling, whining, kvetching, bitching, and general overall grumpiness they elicit here. If I had the same reaction, I think I'd skip solving them, find something better to do with my time, and take the day off. These are, after all, just puzzles intended to amuse, and if they're not doing that for you, why bother?

Fwiw, I found the quip from Bruce and Stella today fresh and funny, better than most.

Anonymous 1:59 PM  

Rex,
To answer one of your questions above, you might try this puzzle from the archives. But don't wait until breakfast.

http://query.nytimes.com/premium/xword/Oct0904.puz


Byron

Ultra Vi 2:45 PM  

I found this quip hilarious, maybe because I solved it in reverse order:

One anywhere (huh?)
But I couldn't find (oh, OK, couldn't find one what?)
A camouflage suit (hmm...)
I tried to buy (what? oh...hunter...HA HA)

Very cute and silly.

A few weeks ago I adopted GNAR as one of my favorite newly-learned sounds. Maybe after today's quip I will add TEHEE.

Karen 5:25 PM  

Howard B, I think I saw that MLK puzzle recently in the Wordplay Companion book. I remember feeling bad that I couldn't remember the entire quote, and had to get a lot of answers from the crosses.

barrywep 9:30 PM  

Byron:

What question does that motherf**ker of a Saturday puzzle answer? I couldn't even finish it the first time. Glad to see I've improved.

Orange 9:38 PM  

Barry: Whether DCUPS passes the breakfast test. It's in that puzzle, clued as [Big top features?].

Linda G 10:31 PM  

I remember both of the puzzles referred to above -- D CUPS and the long quote/synopsis. Both are included in one of my NYT crossword books.

I did the D CUPS puzzle before I started reading this blog, but I remember that it took me by surprise.

Anonymous 11:44 PM  

The key to getting an entry like DCUPS past an editor is to put something like EXLAX two words over. This makes DCUPS seem tame by comparison.

Byron

barrywep 12:26 AM  

Aha! Now I see it. You put me through that repeat torture instead of just saying:

"I, Byron, was the first one to sneak DCUPS into the NY Times.

Anonymous 3:39 PM  

Rex -- If you'll pardon a nit, I think you've mistakenly lumped 2 not-so-great categories of fill together under the heading crosswordese. I've always taken the -ese ending to imply jargony technospeak, often accompanied by an air of annoying obscurantism, since it's incomprehensible to anyone outside of the field from which it comes. (As a parallel, consider "legalese", which the American Heritage defines as "The specialized vocabulary of the legal profession, especially when considered to be complex or abstruse.")

With this in mind, entries like SWAB, HALO, ION, OAF, OSLO, NEAR, ERIE, and ORES are in no way crosswordese -- they may be overused, and cause little delight for frequent solvers, but there's nothing abstruse about these entries.

On the other hand, you've got entries like ADEN, ALEE, SERA, and LAIC. I'd call these crosswordese. I personally would take OSLO and ORES over LAIC any day. A little stale is better than stale AND obscure...

Jeff A.

Rex Parker 3:56 PM  

Jeff-

Perhaps you are right. But I don't think the dividing line between the two (alleged) types of fill you cite is that clear. ALEE and SERA and LAIC are not so much less common than ION. I also can't say I prefer tired fill over pure crosswordese, either. I cannot say with any confidence that I'd rather see ORES than LAIC.

If you read the rules of the Pantheon (sidebar) - you will see that I draw pretty much the same distinction that you do (common in crosswords vs. common in crosswords *and* obscure in the everyday world).

rp

Anonymous 1:20 PM  

Thanks for the response, Rex. Drecky fill -- or at least the fine sorting and ranking of entries from ho-hum to super-crappy -- is definitely in the eye of the beholder to some extent. For me, though, ION and ORES don't make me cringe like LAIC does -- legit word though laic may be, even Blogger's spell-checker is shrugging its shoulders with a "ya got me!?" as I type.

Jeff A.

cornbread 8:36 PM  

and just what, may i ask, would be wrong with D-CUPS at the breakfast table?
or any other time for that matter?

we should all be so lucky.

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