February 02, 2006

The trouble with Friday

Friday puzzles are great, don't get me wrong—but while I generally like them better than the puzzles that precede them, they're still missing that extra oomph that is the Saturday NYT puzzle. Some weeks, the NYS Weekend Warrior is Saturday-tough, and I'm a happy camper those weeks. But this week, Patrick Berry's Weekend Warrior and Manny Nosowsky's Friday NYT were pretty equivalent in solving time, leaving me pining for a wicked Saturday puzzle to launch into the cruciverbal stratosphere tomorrow night.

Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy both of these puzzles—I did. I just wish they'd been, say, two minutes more difficult. It's hard to make a triple-stack (like Manny's puzzle) tougher without filling it with obscurities, so let's look at the good stuff. Manny's triple-stacks contain six great, in-the-language, colloquial phrases. There's a signature medical entry (EMETICS—we don't see many crossword entries that pertain to vomiting, do we?) or two (SPLINT). One relative obscurity (TORELLI, "Italian violinist Giuseppe"). Interesting fill like IRON HAND, CLICK ON an icon, TRYSTED, the HINDLEG for kicking. And we learn that MAUNA means "mountain" in Hawaii.

Which takes us to Patrick Berry's Sun puzzle and 16-Across, MAUNA LOA (can someone explain how that's a vine whose flowers are used to make leis?). There were some fantastic clues, such as the tricky "Puts in a box, perhaps" for PENALIZES and "It catches the swift" for RADAR TRAP, and plenty of great entries, like SKY HOOK and CARBUNCLE. I'll bet you a dollar that the clue for CARBUNCLE, "Color also called London brown," came from Peter Gordon and his dictionary in which oddball color names lurk. (Peter seems quite fond of mystifying solvers with color name clues.) This link equates CARBUNCLE and London brown, but the sources I looked at presumed that carbuncle has a couple meanings: primarily a hideous boil with multiple pus-oozing openings, but back in the day, also a cabochon garnet. Also, can someone explain how "Jakes" = LAV? British toilet slang??


I liked Randolph Ross's bank-wordplay theme in the Wall Street Journal puzzle. The highlight of Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Enquirer puzzle, "Slightly En-Hanced," was HAPPY ENTRAILS, "the 'healthy colon song.'" John Underwood's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Poets' Corner," offers a smart challenge with some tough fill and clever use of poets' names.

# of puzzles solved on paper today: 15

NYS 5:53
NYT 5:42
1/13 CHE 5:24 paper
LAT 4:11 paper
CS 3:47 paper

Reagle 8:24
WSJ 8:16