May 18, 2007

Friday, 5/18

NYT 7:35
NYS 6:07
LAT 4:36
CS 2:35
WSJ 8:46
Reagle 8:53

TPP #11 10:05
TPP #12 6:25

We're down to our last two days of guest blogging, both covered by me, before our fearless leader returns from her overseas adventures. It will be interesting to see if she comes back as a Cryptic convert.

Lots of good puzzles today, a Quarfoot themeless in the Times, a juicy non-Warrior Friday Sun, a solid WSJ from Randy Ross, a pun-filled Reagle extravaganza (which I'll blog about tomorrow), and two variety puzzles from Trip.

I'll start with the Sun tonight because there's so much good stuff to talk about in that one.

NY Sun, "Unqualified" by Lee Glickstein and Nancy Salomon

So, you know Lee and Nancy must have died when they saw last Thursday's LAT, a "No ifs, ands, or buts" theme. But they have nothing to worry about because this puzzle is a much superior execution of the same theme. I don't mean to put down the LAT puzzle, but it's informative to compare the two instances of the theme and see why Lee and Nancy's is special.

The LAT had four 15 theme entries going straight across. One missing IF, one AND, one BUT and the obligatory NOIFSANDSORBUTS. No intersection of theme entries. The first three entries were straightforward phrases with the word IF, AND, or BUT removed, ie THEOLDMANTHESEA . The missing word was an actual part of the phrase, not a hidden sequence of letters.

In the Sun, there were 7 theme entries of varying lenghts (2 6's, 2 8's, 2 9's with 2 each of a missing IF, AND, or BUT) with NOIFSANDSORBUTS cutting vertically down the middle and intersecting 4 of the themes! A unique theme layout that must have been very challenging to construct. Each theme entry took a well known phrase containing the letter sequence IF, AND, or BUT but not the word itself, and removed those letters to form another phrase, explained by a humorous clue. I find it much more interesting when the result of the theme alteration is a viable phrase in it's own right. Here are the themes:

Get a life => GET ALE, clued as "Order at a pub?" Putting this at 1A helped uncover the theme very early in the solving process.

Wife of Bath => WE OF BATH, "Autobiography by the three men in a tub?"

Panic Buttons => PANIC TONS, "Lose one's head big time?"

Branding Iron => BRING IRON, "What you might do to help a friend with pressing needs?"

Time Bandits => Time Bits, "Nanoseconds?"


Butted out => TED OUT, "Headline after Kennedy gave up on his presidential run?"

The last theme entry is probably the weakest since the altered phrase is fairly close to the original, but all in all a great set of entries.

Then on top of an outstandingly well executed theme, we have the Friday level cluing for the rest of the grid. "Silk ingredient" for SOY, "Frank" for RED HOT (I didn't know that a red hot was a hot dog), "It's inspired" for AIR, symmetrical BOOGIE and NOOGIE, identical clues for UGLI and POMELO, finding out an ANORAK isn't just a parka, etc.

Again, I don't mean to put down last week's LAT. It was a well executed midweek puzzle. I just wanted to show why today's Sun was a classic.

NYT, by David Quarfoot

David Quarfoot is quickly becoming the "Thane of the Themeless" (hey, it's way too late and I couldn't think of any other alliterative words for Master). This puzzle was special due to all the entries with non-standard letter combinations: ROEVWADE, CSIMIAMI, RRATING, TMOBILE (what did they do with Catherine Zeta-Jones?), and CCRIDER. One of my favorite albums features STANGETZ. I already admitted to liking the Carpenters, I might as well admit that "Girl from Ipanema" is a favorite as well! This clip is so cheesy, you gotta love it!

The grid is Stumperesque, no entry longer than 8, meaning no breakthroughs from cracking a long answer. Just a slow and steady slog around the grid (the way Stan Newman likes his themelesses over at Newsday). I was sailing through this grid pretty well until I totally hit the wall and came to a dead stop in the SE. I seem to have a really hard time breaking through roadblocks, (note that Howard beat me by a full 2 minutes on this puzzle). To work my way out of the block, I took a stab that the end of 26 down had to be an S. That let me guess SULA for the title character, which led to ATLASES for "Country albums?" and things fell from there. But it seemed like forever before I made progress.

WSJ, "What's Up, Doc?", Randolph Ross

Every theme entry in this puzzle raised a smile. It's a tad inconsistent in that the first six entries are everyday expressions clued in a humorous medical context, ie, "Question from a surgeon?" MAY I CUT IN. Then the last two entries switch to puns, "Compliment to an acupuncturist?" A JAB WELL DONE. But I enjoyed this one a lot.

LAT, by Alison Donald

Things don't quite seem to click on this one ("Traitor's smile" CROSS BEAM) until you get to 49A and see that the word DOUBLE needs to go in front of each theme answer. Then everything falls in place. Nice payoff moment.

CrosSynergy, "Give Bees a Chance", by Will Johnston

WIJ, host of the NYT forum, is one of the very best constructors, and I wish we saw more from him. This puzzle is a good example of why puzzles with titles have a bit of an advantage. The title perfectly motivates the P to B switch theme in a way that an untitled puzzle never could. Will repeats Sarah Keller's CS feat of yesterday, fitting 5 theme entries in a Monday level 15x15. Very impressive.

Trip Payne, Marching Bands

This is a Mike Shenk inspired variety puzzle, of a type often seen in Games Magazine. As long as each letter is part of two entries, the puzzle can be considered a variation on a crossword. My favorite variation is Patrick Berry's "Some Assembly Required" frequently seen in Games or World of Puzzles, which combines crosswords and jigsaw puzzles. In the Marching Bands puzzle, each row contains a sequence of entries, as does each concentric band going around the square. The fun comes in having to work back and forth between the rows and bands, and dealing with going backwards and upside down as you come around the band. You'll see what I mean as you try to solve it.

Trip Payne, Crisscross for Dummies

I remember solving Crisscrosses back when I first started getting Dell Puzzle Magazines as a kid. I haven't done them in a while, so it brought back fond memories to solve this one. Great theme, every entry is a subject covered by a "For Dummies" book. I wonder if Amy bought this prior to her trip. This one is pretty easy, but if you need a starting hint, this should help you with the first horizontal entry.

Oh man, it's way too late and it took me way to long to get this written and posted. Sorry about that everyone, I'll try to get the posting up earlier tomorrow night.