April 14, 2006

The Return of the Fiend

Just got back from Florida tonight, turned on the computer, checked my e-mail, skimmed through the week's posts at the NYT forum, took a peek at the NYT applet rankings...and checked to make sure I hadn't lost a day. Nobody had cracked 10 minutes...and it's not the Saturday crossword? Can't be. And yet it's the Friday puzzle, by James Buell, clad in killer Saturday clothing. Just about nothing was clued in such a way as to be a gimme in this one. SWEATHOG got me started, with the S from the plural 1 Down (that S was all I had for a while) and the G from the -ING in 7 Down. Some twisty clues I liked: "rule that can be bent" for TAPE MEASURE, "they often have strings attached" for TEABAGS, "football conference" for HUDDLE, "Really!" for I KID YOU NOT, "lowlife" for INSECT, "get back" for REAP, "it's quite attractive" for LODESTONE, and "fleeced" for WOOLEN. Relative obscurities like ADJURE, NYALA, LIRA, and AIRE upped the challenge. And then there's GENERAL LEE, not clued as the car from "Dukes of Hazzard." I treasure a Saturday-hard puzzle on a Saturday, but I'm glad I didn't do this one right at 9:00 CDT, or I might have been freaking out as the minutes ticked away.


My take on the Battle of the Themelesses is that the NYT was a bit harder than Byron Walden's Weekend Warrior in the Sun, which was of average Byron difficulty—definitely easier than his killers, like ACPT puzzle #5, but also tougher than his easiest (relatively speaking) puzzles. Is the general consensus that both puzzles had you over a barrel for a while? I redid the puzzle today because I'd done it a couple weeks ago, and it was much easier the second time around—maybe that means that the clues and entries were particularly memorable? Between MAJOR MAJOR and THE FAR SIDE, MAD LIBS and SHRIMP SCAMPI, and clues like "Standard cab?" for HOUSE RED and "where you might find a white elephant" for THAILAND, it is memorable. Even the shortest entries have great clues, like "crown-molding expert" for DDS, "Sticking point?" for RIB, and "Match head?" for MIS. Kudos to Messrs. Walden and Gordon for another finely pitched crossword.

Todd McClary's Wall Street Journal puzzle was a good challenge, with the capital cities added into the theme entries. Extra bonus points for 108 Across, "NYSE ___ (online stock exchange)"—not only do I know someone who works at ARCA, but it's nice to have an alternative to "medieval chest" to bring the word out of the crosswordese arena.

Merl Reagle spoils me with a "Themeless Think Piece," a Sunday-sized themeless puzzle. Ah, if only I saw more puzzles like this. Harvey Estes had a big themeless in Games some months back, and Frank Longo always has the excellent-but-not-hard-enough Jumbo Crossword in Games World of Puzzles, but I'd like to see Saturday-tough Sunday-sized puzzles every now and then.

NYT 9:21
NYS 8:58
LAT 5:39
Tausig 4:55—ooh, four non-theme 11s in the fill—that's fancy constructin'!
3/31 CHE 4:01
CS 3:21

WSJ 11:49
Reagle—whoops, the timer's still at 0:00