September 06, 2006

Thursday the 7th

NYT 5:55
NYS 4:14
LAT 3:57
CS 2:59

I think Lucy Gardner Anderson's fun NYT crossword may be her debut. If so, what a fine debut it is! Both this puzzle and Elizabeth Gorski's Themeless Thursday in the Sun sent me into childhood reminiscences: In the case of the NYT, it was the geeky "look how I can play around with my calculator," while the Sun sent me back to grade-school art class.

The NYT's three 13-letter theme entries explain how eight numerical clues are to be solved: display the numbers on a calculator, turn it upside-down, and read the words. The most famous of these is 0.7734 for hELLO, but kids always knew you could also get hELL and BOOBIES. My old favorite was 71077345, but that link gave me a new fave: 378193771. The number words in the grid aren't in symmetrical locations, and you know what? I like it that way, because overall the fill is quite good; with three 13's plus eight more symmetrically placed entries containing a limited set of letters, this puzzle could have ended up with some terrible fill. Jostle the symmetry a bit, and see if the fill isn't a bit smoother.

Liz Gorski's Themeless Thursday has a perfect pop-culture mini-theme (BEFORE SUNRISE and AFTER MIDNIGHT) and fizzy fill (AVUNCULAR, OH DEAR ME, TACO STAND, the BAD CALLS that so beset John McEnroe, and DEMIGOD). It's also got RAGBAG clued as "Hodgepodge." This spurs a couple thoughts: First, do you ever do a Google search on a word and click definition near the top of the results page? That gets you the page for the word, which includes the American Heritage dictionary definition (a bag of rags, or a motley collection, a hodgepodge), along with thesaurus listings, translations, and the relevant Wikipedia article. In this instance, I like the comparison between the Italian translation of ragbag, given as confusione, and one of the German words, the very-literal-sounding Lumpensack. Second thought: Does anyone else remember a brand-name '70s arts and craft substance called Hodgepodge? Some sort of lacquer or glue, maybe used in papier mache? With a deliciously tangy aroma? Anyone?