December 08, 2006

Saturday, 12/9

NYT 5:56
Newsday 4:16
LAT 4:12
CS 3:18

(post updated at 9:00 a.m. Saturday)

I bided my time during Ben’s two hours of after-school activities by solving about 15 themeless crosswords. Just 3 1/2 months to Stamford! Training continues apace. And I’ve already bought my plane tickets. Nancy Shack tipped me off to a great airfare ($120 round-trip!) so I couldn’t resist. Tyler Hinman’s booked on the same flight as Nancy and me…so it occurs to me that Ellen Ripstein’s whole “If somebody’s plane couldn’t make it, I wouldn’t be too upset” thing, well, what if somebody’s plane made it, but one passenger wasn’t allowed to board? Ah, but that’s not nice. Plus, Tyler and I have discussed the idea of a Tipsy Tournament—tackling crosswords under the influence after the wine reception on Friday evening. Who’s in?

Moving right along…Ah, delicious! Another themeless puzzle in which the grid’s got two quadrants with only a single word connecting them to the rest of the grid. I like the extra challenge that structure imposes. This time, the constructor is Robert H. Wolfe, and he’s packed this 58-worder with plenty of “Huh?” stuff (as we expect on a Saturday). To wit: Things I didn’t know, but which make sense after they’re pieced together. The [Mathematical grouping] COSET and light-emanating RADIANTS; the CYCLECAR of a century ago; and the British military’s Taps, LAST POST, and [Tax, in Tottenham] for CESS. Unfamiliar names, such as baseball Hall-of-Famer Joe CRONIN and LEONID Andreyev, a Russian writer [famous for his horrific tales]. Now, one thing I did know was [Auriga's brightest star], CAPELLA, but only because it killed me eight weeks ago in a Byron Walden puzzle. Clues I liked include [It can be carved out] for CAREER, [Write seperately, say] for MISSPELL, [Shade provider] for COLORANT, and [Note] for EMINENCE (as in "person of note"). On the minus side, there are a few of those words that end with -ER or start with RE-, but hell, it's a gnarly 58-worder, so who cares?


The day's other themeless puzzles, by Matt Skozcen in the LA Times and Daniel Stark with the Newsday Saturday Stumper, were considerably easier. I tend to prefer those with stacks of 9-, 10-, or 11-letter entries to those with a slew of interlocking 7's. Why? Because the longer an entry is, the more likely it is to be seasoned with the zesty herbs and spices that are good multi-word phrases. The Skoczen puzzle, for example, has CHA CHA CHA, LADIES' MAN, ODD MAN OUT (and no, honestly, I don't care that MAN's in there twice, and didn't notice it while solving—so it would appear that both Will Shortz and Rich Norris are OK with good puzzles containing a little duplication [solvers take note]), AMOS 'N' ANDY, SEA OF AZOV (I do like me some geography), MOHS SCALE. The Saturday Stumper, on the other hand, has just a handful of phrases amid a slew of 7-letter words. Another difference between Newsday and the other newspaper puzzles I solve are that Newsday clues tend to be much shorter. Sometimes I like that elegance, and sometimes I prefer long, trivia-packed clues.