Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Title: Six Degrees of Separation
Author: Lee Glickstein
Theme: Six different college degree abbreviations have been added to six different phrases, with each degree split between multiple words, as follows:
  • Mod Squad => MOB AD SQUAD(17a: Jingle writers for the Mafia?). Bachelor of Arts.

  • Harmful => HAM ARMFUL(25a: Grocery bag of breakfast meat?). Master of Arts. Why breakfast meat? People don't eat ham sandwiches for lunch or have baked ham for dinner anymore?

  • Co-host => COMB A HOST(31a: Groom Oprah?). Master of Business Administration. This clue leaves amusing images in my head. And yes, it would be just as funny if it were Jay Leno or Larry King or any other host.

  • Monday => MOM FAN DAY(41a: Celebratory time for people who appreciate delivery women?). Master of Fine Arts. "Delivery women" is a bit of a stretch (no additional pun intended) here, I think.

  • Mutates => MUM STATES(47a: Silences?). Master of Science.

  • Curtains => CURB STAINS(56a: Street cleaner's targets?). Bachelor of Science.

This is a very well-executed theme, with a perfect title. It has nice, balanced theme entries, with nothing standing out as too forced or too gimmicky. As we've seen earlier in the week, trying to cram five or more theme entries into a small puzzle has a tendency to leave the remaining fill pretty dry. Not so here. Even with six theme entries, the rest of the puzzle contains a remarkable amount of sparkle. Let's take a look:

Sunny Spots:

  • 14a: Johnny Mathis hit (CHANCES ARE). Take your pick, here's the original and here's a more recent, live performance.

  • 20a: "___ Sings Dylan" (1965 folk album) (ODETTA). I'll admit I couldn't dredge up the name until I got some crossings, but this is a nice slice of 60s pop culture.

  • 29a: Author of "Syntactic Structures" (CHOMSKY). I should have figured this one out right away without crossings. I attended a Noam Chomsky speech back in college in the 80s. He is a world-reknowned linguist, with strong political views as well. If you parsed the clue to realize it was talking about language syntax, it's a good bet that Noam Chomsky is the answer. It's a great looking fill, too.

  • 38a: Don's "Nash Bridges" costar (CHEECH Marin). Of "Cheech and Chong" fame.

  • 39a: Pooh pal (EEYORE). You gotta love Eeyore.

  • 51a: Coolness factor on the street (CRED). Does including "cred" in a puzzle give it street cred? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • 52a: Jenny (SHE-ASS). This was one of the last pieces to fall for me, and might well belong in the "Suns of Bitches" section, but it's such a cool answer that it goes here. That's the mark of a good puzzle, when even the killer clues leave you smiling.

  • 15d: Virgin offerings? (CDS). I was thinking of the airline, not the record label. Great clue!

  • 27d: ID designation (MST). Very clever clue here! I didn't figure out until I had the answer that it's ID as in Idaho.

  • 54d: Thing that may be contracted by unions?: Abbr. (STD). Wow! Another edgy clue by the Sun. We're so programmed to not think in these terms when doing puzzles; references to sexually transmitted disease are rarely seen. Excellent misdirection.

  • 1a: Infiltrator (MOLE). This was easy for me, as I've read my share of spy thrillers.

  • 16a: ___ vez (again, in Spanish) (OTRA). I don't know much Spanish, but I've seen "otra" before in puzzles, so it wasn't too hard to piece together.

  • 18a: Bothersome person (TWIT). I know we've seen twit recently, because I posted a link to the Monty Python "Twit of the Year" sketch. I'll leave it to you to go digging for it if you want to see it again.

  • 19a: Show whose theme song was written by Pete Townshend (CSI). The song in question being the Who's "Who Are You?". Great way to spice up a common entry.

  • 28a: TV lawyer Stone (ELI). Saw the ads for it; never watched the show.

  • 40a: "I'm exasperated!" (AARGH). Love it.

  • 44a: Braggart (EGOTIST). I like the fill here, but the definition feels off to me. You can be an egotist without bragging, can't you? If anything, I would think the set of braggarts is a subset of egotists, and you don't typically clue in that direction without a "for example". Opinions? Of course, the reason it's clued like this is that it crosses 45d: Braggart, which is the less common, but more apt, GASCON (not to be confused with Gaston, from "Beauty and the Beast".

  • 46a: Seattle-to-D.C. direction. (ESE). You know, this may be the first of this type of clue for me that was blatantly obvious what the answer direction was without looking at a map or just guessing from the crosses. Thank you for picking two cities whose relative geographic positions are pretty obvious.

  • 64a: Apartment that's bigger than a studio (ONE BEDROOM).

  • 66a: Time being (NONCE). I'm going to assume, for the nonce, that no one has used this word in conversation since Shakespeare's time.

  • 67a: Toe dancer's attire (TUTU).

  • 1d: 380% of D (MCM). The Sun is big on roman numeral math. I like ones like this that I can do in my head. (380% of 500 = .5 x 3800 = 1900).

  • 3d: Test center (LAB).

  • 5d: He played Ricky (DESI Arnaz).

  • 7d: Symbol for torque (TAU). Knew it was a Greek letter (eta, rho, tau); the 'Q' in ESQ made this one pretty obvious.

  • 8d: Christy Mathewson's was exactly 2 in 1907. (ERA). I should have guessed that this was a baseball clue, but somehow my brain wasn't going there.

  • 10d: Clan emblem (TOTEM).

  • 11d: Workweek letters (MTWTF). This was my foothold in that section.

  • 12d: Verdi aria sung by Renato (ERI TU). I only know this from crosswords, usually clued as "___ tu (Verdi aria)".

  • 13d: Present at birth (NATAL). Excellent clue.

  • 21d: Sauna feature (DRY HEAT). I would love to have seen this clued as "Yeah, but it's a ___".

  • 22d: Center of activitiy (MECCA)

  • 23d: "Yo, ho!" (ALOHA). "Yo, ho" just reminds me of the Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disney. Classic!

  • 25d: Sob part (HOO). The other part being "Boo-".

  • 29d: Marks of distinction (CACHETS). Great word.

  • 30d: Veep of the 60s. (HHH). That would be Hubert Horatio Humphrey.

  • 34d: Alyssa Rosenbaum's assumed first name (AYN). Referring to Ayn Rand.

  • 35d: Programming pro (CODER). As a software engineer, "coder" does not imply "pro" to me. A lot of people can code; not everyone is a pro. To me, coder is the high-tech equivalent of "plugger"; it may not be elegant, but it'll probably get the job done.

  • 39d: Puff pieces? (EFS). Ah yes, it's an "it's-the-letter-itself" clue. Did you fall for it? I didn't.

  • 41d: ___ juste (exactly the right word) (MOT). French for "word".

  • 42d: Suffix with Capri (OTE). Capriote doesn't show in many of my dictionaries, but I've seen it before.

  • 47d: "Morning Joe" cable channel (MSNBC). Name a cable channel in 5 letters. Anything else come to mind? Perhaps A AND E, but MSNBC was my first guess.

  • 48d: Ryder rival (U-HAUL)

  • 50d: Word (SAY SO). This was part of that nasty SW section for me, but once I finally got it, I loved it.

  • 51d: Become a hit (CHART). Nice use of chart as a verb.

  • 57d: Game with cards numbered 0 to 9 (UNO). If you've never played it, it's basically Crazy Eights.

  • 58d: Nicktoons pooch (REN). Ren gets way more crossword attention than Stimpy, doesn't he?

  • 59d: Programme provider (BBC). I was reading "Programme" as French, not British, which didn't help me any.

Suns of Bitches:
This puzzle had its fair share of tough clues, most of which have already been mentioned above. Here are a few more:
  • 22a: Hockey center Cullen or Stajan (MATT). See, once you go to hockey, all bets are off. It could be MATS or SVEN or YVES or almost any combination of 4 letters. Was not expecting a "Matt".

  • 33a: Mark whose name means "little hook" in Czech (HACEK). When I finished this puzzle, I figured this was another hockey player, Mark Hacek. But no, it's a diacritical mark that's like an upside-down caret, as in: háček.

  • 65a: "Pinocchio" goldfish" (CLEO). I know I've seen "Pinocchio" before, but this doesn't ring a bell at all.

  • 62d: Cotton Bowl winner of 1983 (SMU). Really? We're supposed to remember results of individual bowl games that happened 25 years ago? Hmm.

All in all, I found this a thoroughly challenging and entertaining puzzle. Harder than I would expect on a typical Thursday (perhaps partially because I was watching TV and drinking beer while I was doing it, but not totally), but enough toeholds to work out the tough clues. Very nice.

Thanks for listening.

- Pete M.


Anonymous said...

I'm unclear about why 23D, Yo, Ho!, is ALOHA. Are fictional pirates supposed to say "Aloha"?

I enjoyed today's puzzle in the abstract sense of always enjoying the battle, but the theme didn't do it for me. A theme answer should provoke a feeling that the constructor found a clever way to reach a fun answer, not just a strange string of letters that can somehow be clued. And that fun-factor tells you that the nonsense string in front of you really is the theme answer, and helps you complete the answer. Today's theme answers were just a bit removed from fun phrases.

Pete M said...

I think "Yo ho!" (no comma), is piratesque (it's my blog, I can make up words if I want to), and "Yo, Ho!" is like "Yo, dude!" when the dude happens to be Don Ho, who happens to be Hawaiian (if he's still alive; I'm too lazy to go check), and "Yo, ho!" (no capitalization) would be pimp daddy street jive. Oh, the subtleties of language... :)

Anonymous said...

Actually I think the clue refers to Saying Hi to Don Ho.
Uncle Frank
New Bern, NC
BTW Great blog

Anonymous said...

Ah, Don Ho. Yes, I should have considered the comma and the capital H. Now, who's more famous, Don Ho or Ho Chi Minh?

(I did find some MySpace-type drivel suggesting pirates might say "aloha," but it seemed unreliable.)

Bill D said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill D said...

This is the first puzzle I quit on in a over a year. When the clock hit the hour mark I packed it in; I just was not having fun. This may have been in part the result of doing today's absolutely superb NYT puzzle first.

I agree with Jim on the theme - even after I figured it out it was no help. I had been looking for the same letters to add/remove, but when it dawned on me that the "degrees" in question were all going to be short, different, and essentially random letter combinations drawn from a huge pool, which would alter not-so-common words AND phrases, I just said AARGH! The inconsistency of having four theme answers affect single random words (Harmful, Monday, Mutates [seriously?], Curtains) one a pop-culture phrase (Mod Squad) and one a hypenated word (Co-host) bothered me a lot. The puzzle might have been fairer just clued without the "theme".

MOM FAN DAY was the one that did me in (even considering delivery as NATAL), what with CapriOTE and MOT (without "Bon _") crossing it. It didn't help that I though TIS were the only scale notes with an "I". Cycled through MOT, MON, MOI and probably some others at 41D, but never came up with anything that worked in my mind for MOM FAN DAY and MUM STATES.

Anyway, if this one left a bad taste in your mouth and you haven't done today's NYT grid, DO IT!

Joon said...

i guess i'll completely disagree with bill here. i had trouble with the sun puzzle, to be sure, but it was a really good puzzle, with tough but fair clues and a fine theme. (i say "fine" rather than "excellent" because i agree with jim in NYC that the theme answers could have been funnier in surface sense.) the NYT puzzle had some nice things going for it, but it also contained an inexcusably wrong answer. that, not sheer difficulty, is what leaves a bad taste in my mouth after a puzzle.