September 14, 2006

The curse continues: Friday edition

NYT 6:55
NYS 6:51
LAT 4:54
9/1 CHE 4:27
CS 3:43

WSJ 7:19
Reagle untimed

Sheesh, all week I've been having my derriere handed to me by more NYT applet solvers than usual. It may be in poor form to whine about plummeting a few notches farther from the top, but dammit, I expect better of myself. I think I'm just sleepy earlier in the evening now that the school year has started and I have to get my son out the door by 7:50 a.m. each day. But take heart: At Stamford, the whole competition takes place long before my bedtime.

You know who's been kicking ass lately? Howard Barkin, who was bested in the C finals by Ken Jennings at the most recent ACPT. Howard's time on the Thursday puzzle was fantastic. Howard, you'd better go to Stamford next March, because I think you'll be climbing the ranks. And then Byron Walden's almost always fast—so long as Will Shortz keeps hiring him to construct and judge for the tournament, we won't find out if he can beat us in the tournament setting and he won't find out if he'd self-destruct. (What? It could happen.) Also, if you've got ideas for how to defang Tyler Hinman, we should all start working on that project. The tournament's only six months away, after all, and he's taken to solving the daily NYT on paper, tournament-style. This could be trouble—so we need a plan. (If you're a constructor doing tournament puzzles, may I suggest that your name be Bob Klahn, or that you cross little-known rivers with old-timey entries? Anything from the '50s and earlier should be good.)

Even if I'm not setting any speed records on the Friday puzzles, I'm always pleased to have a couple themeless crosswords to sink my teeth into—here, Frank Longo's Weekend Warrior in the Sun and Harvey Estes' NYT. Frank has APPLE JACKS cereal (go ahead—click that link), SMART BOMBS, RAGGEDY ANN, and INSEMINATE (clued merely as [Sow]) anchoring the four corner sections of 10-letter stacks. Tell me this: What popped into your mind first when you read [It's often popped before mingling]? (The answer's MINT.) [Ranch dressing item] is not E. coli-infested spinach, but rather, a STETSON hat. [Compact toy] is the POMERANIAN dog, not a plaything. Terrific fill and clues here.

Harvey's NYT includes three triple-stacked 15s, and nary A TEENAGER IN LOVE in sight. Anyone else try plugging IT'S ALL GREEK TO ME in the bottom row, in lieu of IT'S TOO DEEP FOR ME? Or TONS instead of CELS for [Short units, perhaps]? Or MSG instead of DIN for [Headache intensifier]? Or GRINS for BEAMS? Those wrong turns didn't help me out. I like how THE POWERS THAT BE sit astride the rest of the puzzle. And the two rooster-related clues, one pertaining to the CHINESE CALENDAR, set the solver up to misconstrue [Where to see many rams?]—the DEMOLITION DERBY, of course, has nothing to do with the animal and everything to do with crashing. Hey, at least I didn't come up with a wrong answer for that one. I'm quite proud of myself.


Merl Reagle becomes a cruciverbal bad boy, breaking rules just because. In this weekend's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, he lets himself use unchecked squares (which I had no trouble filling in, so it's not as if Merl's made the puzzle harder) and two-letter entries in a themeless 21x21 format, with a grid that's completely symmetrical (see? he's not breaking all the rules). There are four 21s in each direction, all interlocking, none of them stretching the bounds of good entries. I see a mini-theme in INTERNATIONAL DATE LINE and THIRD INFANTRY DIVISION both dividing the grid vertically.

The Chronicle of Higher Education took a summer vacation in August, but the puzzles are back now. Paul Land's "Doctor Who" puzzle has a theme of identifying the targets of satire in various Seuss books—interesting! I did get stuck in one spot, where a trigonometry term and Shakespeare quote crossed a chemical and an easy word with an overly specific clue ([Mexican miss] for LATINA).

I liked Mike Torch's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Pop-up Blocker," but—since it's now morning and I'm wide awake—found it a little too easy.