MONDAY, Jan. 21, 2008 - Andrea Carla Michaels

Monday, January 21, 2008

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: WIN / LOSE / DRAW - three theme answers start with WIN, LOSE, and DRAW, respectively.

An easy, breezy puzzle. Pretty bare-bones, as themes go. Not much to say about it. It's a bit ho-hum. Ms. Michaels' puzzles usually have a bit more zing to them. I do like that the puzzle makes me think of "Win, Lose, or Draw," the 80s Pictionary-type game show hosted by Bert Convy, where contestants teamed up with "celebrities." The set was designed to look like somebody's living room. What's weird to me is that these words together - WIN, LOSE, DRAW - conjure no other image, no other context, besides a besweatered Bert Convy handing Magic Markers to the likes of . Check out this clip, featuring crossword denizen ELAYNE Boosler and a parade of bad sweaters and haircuts. What I like about this puzzle is that I can imagine the theme is "Word Games" - "Win, Lose, or Draw" is one, JUMBLE (10D: Popular newspaper puzzle subtitled "That Scrambled Word Game") is another, and then, within a theme answer, there's also Scrabble ... (see 61A). Can I just say, about the JUMBLE, that despite its ... banality? cheesiness? ... I find it irresistible. And not always easy. I've been stumped by the JUMBLE before. There. I said it.

Theme answers:

  • 17A: Triumph, but just barely (win by a nose) - I started writing in BEAT BY A NOSE, got halfway through the answer and realized it wouldn't fit. Messy.
  • 38A: Fall off a beam (lose one's balance)
  • 61A: Momentarily forget (or get lucky in Scrabble?) (draw a blank) - I believe Ms. Michaels is a Scrabble player. So, probably, are many of you. Not my cup of tea (mmm, tea ... must finish this write-up quickly so I can get downstairs and have mine).

There are a couple of Olde Timey actors in the puzzle today: Ed AMES (21A: Actor Ed of "Daniel Boone"), whom I learned about from crosswords, and LEW Ayres (63D: Actor Ayres), whom I also learned about from crosswords ... and then promptly forgot. His career stretched from "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1930) to guest appearances on "The A-Team," "L.A. Law," and "Highway to Heaven." The only LEW I know is LEW Archer, detective in the bulk of Ross Macdonald's novels (I feel as if I made that very same comment the last time I saw LEW Ayres). LEW and AMES were the only parts of the puzzle that seemed at all loop-throwing. All other odd bits of knowledge are flat-out common in crosswords, e.g. ST. LO (28D: Capital of Manche, France) or OCALA (52D: City between Gainesville and Orlando) or AARE (41D: Swiss river). Other old school answers include ARTE (25D: Comic Johnson), EKED (64A: Barely earned, with "out"), and OTT (42A: Baseballer Mel), among others. If you don't want your puzzle to feel like it's sucking the life out of the room, I have two suggestions. One: keep crosswordese to a minimum (today's puzzle is not a great offender on this count - just average); and two: use words like EBBING (22A: Declining in power) and WANED (6D: Declined in power) sparingly. They tend to have a soporific effect. Takes the punch right out of your puzzle.

The rest:

  • 67A: M&M's that were removed from 1976 to 1987 out of a health concern for a coloring dye (reds) - a long, long, weird way to go for REDS ... but I'm not complaining. This clue actually livened things up a bit.
  • 1D: Home turf? (lawn) - I had TOWN. Ugh. Maybe this was because the "L" cross, LEWD, was so hard for me to come up with (1A: Lascivious). OGLE and LEER were jockeying for position in the forefront of my brain and wouldn't let LEWD through.
  • 31D: "The Star Spangled Banner" land (U.S.A.) - that's an odd clue. Made me think OF THE FREE. Did you know that Francis Scott Key (a very distant relative of F. Scott Fitzgerald) wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" while in temporary custody of a British warship off the coast of Baltimore during the War of 1812? It's true. I think. At least that's what my Intellectual Devotional: American History Edition told me last night. It's a fun, if fairly traditional, overview of U.S. History from early colonization to the present day, organized a bit like a calendar, with a new event, person, or concept each day. If all you're after is "cocktail party" (or in my case "crossword puzzle") knowledge, it's a great way to spend five minutes every night before bedtime.
  • 11D: Online commerce (e-tail) - this word, like the majority of e-words, must die.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld


Whitey's mom 9:06 AM  

Always like Mondays for restoring self-esteem. Easy puzzle.

Anonymous 9:13 AM  

Another "image" for the theme (meaning the outcome doesn't matter), might be, "W - L or D, that was a mighty fine game of Tic Tac Toe.

Tom Taylor 9:25 AM  

Rex - Did you get the intellectual devotional for a holiday gift?? I did too and have also just read that bit about Francis Scott Key! I agree, it is a great way to bone up for the puzzle!
I also agree that today's puzzle what a bit on the bland side.

janie 9:32 AM  

>Did you know that Francis Scott Key...?

well, hon -- if you're from baw'mer [guilty!], you could be laughed outta town if ya *didn't*! ;-)

ditto whitey's mom for monday and esteem. as opposed to e-steem. not sure that i'd put the kibosh on all "e-" words. clearly they're a boon to constructors. and sometimes they freshen the fill. but balance, using them judiciously... well, it's part of the same old same old, no?

day off today. nippy. but *nice*!



PhillySolver 10:15 AM  

It is Monday and the puzzle was easy and all is right in the world...a good day to remember that one person can make a difference.

miriam b 11:35 AM  

I do Jumble on the net, and have noted a recent problem which literally takes half the fun out of it. After one rearranges the scrambled letters into respectable words, the circled letters are supposed to be used to create a bonus word or phrase. At first I wondered why I just couldn't make this happen. It turned out that lately the majority of bonuses apparently belong to other Jumbles and have nothing to do with the puzzle at hand.

About Lew Ayres - and this will go to show that I'm about 9 years older than God - he was featured in the Dr. Kildare movies, with Lionel Barrymore playing his mentor, Dr. Gillespie.

PuzzleGirl 11:39 AM  

We were at a wrestling meet yesterday (Go Hawks!) and they displayed the words to the Star Spangled Banner as it was sung. My son asked my husband what a "rampart" is, so we looked up Francis Scott Key when we got home and got that whole story. JUST YESTERDAY. Synchronicity ....

A personal best time for me today. And less than 1 minute > Orange. Woo-hoo!

Anonymous 11:51 AM  

I don't really do the Jumble, but the sort of similar TextTwist is an addictive time killer.

Anonymous 12:17 PM  

The online Jumble is a hoot. Harp strings when you solve a word and drum rolls when you complete it. See Orange’s site for what had to be a breakfast table issue for a Jumble.

Jumble and Scrabble in the same puzzle made me go Anagram crazy.

Almost 1/3 of the answers are workable anagrams. Seven are or word reversals

Idol / Lodi ( Town in New Jersey)
Dab /bad
Tort/trot Net/ten

14 across and 41 down are twins : area/aare. According to Jim H’s database Area is the number Two answer.

The rest:

Allah/halal -

Drama/madras -

ocean/canoe -

Saver/raves - newt/went -
Free/reef - ames/same -
Scot/cost - lewd/weld -
carets/crates - jest/jets -
Oiler/oriel - stubs/busts -
Cones/scone - nomads/damson-

Anonymous 12:32 PM  

E-tail sounds like some sort of euphemism used with online dating. Or something like that.

Didn't even notice the theme until I was done. Was headed for my Best Time Ever of around 4 minutes but got hung up at the CARETS, ADOS, AARE area.

Anonymous 12:43 PM  

How about LEW ALCINDOR, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a frequent cluing for LEW.

Anonymous 12:44 PM  

At least "e-tail" diverges from the boring default use of the e- prefix (which is what leads to the humorous alternative definition proposed by Peter 12:32 :-) .

Will Dilbert's "e-diot" ever make it to the NYTimes grid? Looks like like a useful letter combination.


Anonymous 12:49 PM  

Not as fast as Puzzlegirl (anagram of guzzler-lip), but breaking the five minute barrier was a first for me. I need to cut my time in half...hhhmmm...bicameral brain, two eyes, two arms, two hands, two pencils: I think I know what to do! There are some good speed tips in the comments section of Rex's blog for the syndicated puzzle today, by the way.

@rikki -- Thalia Menninger! (anagram of hernia-alignment). Thanks for reminding me.

Anonymous 12:55 PM  

WARNING: comment does not pass breakfast test!

Re: e- prefixes. During the "dot-bomb" period of disillusionment following the dot-com bubble of the 90's, those who talked up e-commerce excessively were referred to as "e-holes".

That will probably never make the puzzle, though!

fergus 1:19 PM  

Just wondering if the super-speed-solvers feel comfortable about filling in a bunch of entries without reading the clues? I probably did that about ten times today, but felt like I was pressing my luck. I forget exactly how the scoring goes, but even getting one square wrong in peeling my seven to six, or your three to two, would not be worth it. I suppose any twinge of doubt on an ambiguous cross sets off an alarm in the experienced blazer's mind though.

Seemed like an unusually sharp visual puzzle today.

Anonymous 1:35 PM  

Best time for me too. Any time under 3xOrange makes my Monday. Fairly average puzzle.

Orange 1:40 PM  

Fergus, that's mighty dangerous in a tournament setting, as there's usually alternate fill that will work if you ignore the clues. If you attend the tournament (or participate online or by mail), bear in mind that a perfect solution gets you a nice bonus (150 points). You get an extra 25 points for every minute of speed, but lose 25 points per error. If you spend an extra minute reading the clues or double-checking your answers and root out just incorrect squares, you come out ahead.

fergus 1:55 PM  

Thanks for the clarification, Orange. When I saw "Wordplay" I was under the impression that accuracy did count more than speed. But since speed is measured only in one minute increments, I reckon you get into that trade-off zone around the 50 second mark. That's assuming that the time is displayed for all to see? Also in the movie, the time factor seemed rather casually and chaotically measured, which is probably just my misinterpretation?

FitDitz 1:58 PM  

I liked the juxtaposition of "wddw" in LEWD and DWARF.

Anonymous 2:54 PM  

I also liked the alliteration of 28A: "smug smile"=SMIRK.

Orange 2:57 PM  

Fergus, the hardcore solver glances at the clock as she finishes a puzzle. If the minute's almost up and there aren't problem areas you wanted to revisit, you raise your hand pronto to get credit for that minute. If a minute just ticked over, there's no advantage to raising your hand right away, so you might as well check your grid to make use of that final minute.

The "raise your hand and wait for a judge to pick up your paper" method may look chaotic, but it does seem to work all right. If you're concerned that the judge might not reach you in time, make a note of how much time was left on the clock when you finished. If there's a discrepancy and it matters, you can get it cleared up Sunday morning.

Anonymous 3:30 PM  

Ed Ames is also famous for an appearance on The Tonight Show. He gave a tomahawk demonstration as a plug for his Indian character on "Daniel Boone." He flung the tomahawk at a chalk outline of a man and it hit precisely at the figure's crotch.

The audience cracks up and Carson's facial expressions keep them going for almost a minute. His one comment at the end is priceless. Here's the link.


fergus 3:42 PM  

Thanks again. Just one more question: are you situated close enough to your chief rivals to have their raised hands influence your double-checking thoroughness? I imagine there might be a possibility for some gamesmanship at a minute's close ... not that that's a bad thing.

Anonymous 3:51 PM  

One of my favorite songs by the late Warren Zevon (who was born on January 24) is "The Hula Hula Boys," about a guy on vacation in Florida whose companion runs around with every male in sight. Two of the lines:

I didn't have to come to Maui to be treated like a jerk.
How do you think I feel when I see the bellboys smirk?

So it was fun, at least for me, to see "Maui" and "smirk" in the same puzzle.

Chris, thanks for the memory of Ed Ames and the tomahawk. Carson's expression and comments WERE brilliant.

Thanks for the clarification on scoring in the tournament. I'm still debating attending. (It's the same weekend as a conference for gifted children in NJ, and I teach G&T.)

Anonymous 4:19 PM  

I had my best time on today's puzzle, so with the concurrence of all the best times noted above either we're all getting better and faster or today was on the easy side. (As much as I'd like to think it's the former, it's probably the latter.)

I'm surprised that the phrase 'WIN LOSE or DRAW' is so largely associated with the erstwhile gameshow, but that does seem to be the predominance of major google hits.

I did enjoy the cluing for DRAW A BLANK. Since 'get lucky' has other connotations in popular speech, 'get lucky in Scrabble' struck me as funny.

Anonymous 5:07 PM  

I think mentions of non-NYT puzzles are discouraged here, but since my last visit I notice Rex recommending a number of them. Sorry if this is verboten, but Andrea C. Michaels also did today's Sun. Rex might consider its theme cleverer. Or not. It was one of those "why hadn't someone thought of that before" moments.

JC66 6:21 PM  

"Did you know that Francis Scott Key...?"

We learned this in Junior High, about 55 years ago. I guess a lot's happened since then, and the curriculum has changed.

Orange 6:59 PM  

Fergus, I sat near Al and Trip (and Tyler? I forget) last year. You do try to hurry up if a rival's done and you're still plugging away. That can also rattle you.

Michael Chibnik 8:43 PM  

I paused a second over "yack." For some reason, I thought that the verb (as well as the animal) was yak...

I tried to see if concentrating on downs improved my speed. I think it did, but it is hard to tell because the puzzle was so easy.

fergus 11:49 PM  

Orange, It was naive of me to ask a question about gamesmanship -- I was simply engaging in a thought experiment about competitive crossword solving. Still wondering nevertheless, whether someone who's almost finished might effectively call on the person who might seem to have quite a few blank spaces left. But the more I consider the dynamics, the more I understand the reasons behind the scoring.


Billnutt -- I am curious about your G&T conference and focus, since I'm getting more involved in this area at the local schools. If you could send some information, ( would be grateful. Thanks.

Anonymous 12:35 AM  

just want to pop in...
yes, it was easy and admittedly not the zingiest...I am a VERY serious Scrabble player one of the reasons I can't go to the big crossword tournament (extremely limited resources have made me have to choose)
however, the impetus for this puzzle was indeed DRAWABLANK I love that in real life it's a negative but in Scrabble it's the best thing that can happen!!!!!
If I could think of other phrases which have internal opposite meanings (like CLEAVE, etc. I can't remember what that is called) I would make a whole puzzle about it!
But yes, I'm a gameshow freak, (used to write for them) so I loved having Scrabble and Jumble in a crossword...all my loves coming together.
Glad the easiness at least had the positive aspect of setting new time records for some of you...
and that Ed AMES "clip" is indeed why I included that bit of an oldie moldy entry!
andrea carla michaels
PS yes, I made the Sun puzzle today as well...pure coincidence!

Zack 11:28 AM  

After looking at Orange and Fergus' comments I'm ready to compete but not quite ready to take on Rex :)

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