May 24, 2007

Friday, 5/25

NYS 9:06
LAT 5:35
NYT 5:20
Jonesin' 4:10
5/11 CHE 4:02
CS 2:43

WSJ (see Saturday post)
Reagle mia this week

(updated at 11 a.m. Friday)

Ah, Friday! Or rather: Ah, Thursday evening! When the weekend's themeless puzzles begin to burst like fireworks! Although every other week, the Sun's Thursday puzzle is themeless. But you know what I'm getting at if you find yourself either thirsting for or dreading themeless crosswords.

The Sun Weekend Warrior by Byron Walden seemed a bit easier than his last NYT puzzle, and yet still considerably harder than I was expecting. The NYT crossword by Mike Nothnagel looks like a Saturday-tough slog based on the early applet solvers' times, and yet I found myself on Mike's (and/or Will Shortz's) wavelength tonight.

First up, the tougher nut to crack (for me, anyway), Byron's puzzle, blogged in bulleted list form (thanks for the lesson, Dave!). Note that this grid's got just four 3-letter entries.

  • Favorite clues: [Classic loafer] for LOTUS EATER (I had shoes on the brain); [Ducky] for JAKE; [Bar exam?] for TRIVIA QUIZ; [Beethoven et al.] for ST BERNARDS; [Starting five?] for the TORAH; [One doing the lord's work?] for LIEGE; [Cuban cubo] for OCHO (as in dos to the third power); [Fraction of a mil] for THOU; [It might be found on a sweep hand] for SOOT (chimney sweep's hand, not a second hand on a watch); [Tick, for example] for MARK; and [Zenana] for HAREM, as one of those obscure words I learned via crossword clues long ago.
  • Favorite entries (besides those mentioned already): DIDI clued as Gogo's pal in Waiting for Godot (short for Vladimir and Estragon); the Hungarian town of SZEGED (a Karen Traceyesque geographic name); POP BOTTLES.
  • Things that befuddled me: The PARADE LAP at Indy; oh, Byron, motor sports befouling one of your puzzles? Tch. A BUSTED FLUSH is a crappy poker hand, not a broken crapper. The museum AUDIO GUIDE was fresh in my mind from all the museum-going, yet eluded me because I'd put in dusty TEAL instead of AQUA, mucking up the top left. [Ballpark figures, for short] is STATS, but I opted to disregard the "for short" bit and go for STABS crossing B CELL, but the clue for 19-Across signals T CELL with its allusion to a "neck gland" (t cells come from the thymus). [Intro to many a colon] had so many reasonable 4-letter options: IS TO? No. Oh, then maybe HOUR? No. There's a T in there, so it must be ATTN, then. No, not that either. It's HTTP. ANTAL Doráti's name didn't leap to mind. And [Quattro competitor] had me thinking of Audis rather than Schick razors, so the Gillette SENSOR took ages to shave the stubble of ignorance from my brain. (Is that metaphor too much?)

Mike's NYT puzzle threw a few "Huh?" clues at me, but they were outnumbered by the clever ones that I figured out, albeit often with the help of plenty of crossings.

  • Trouble spots: Well, how about 1-Across? [Actor with an L.A.P.D. auditorium named after him]. Huh? Okay, JACK somebody. Jack Lord? No, LORD is over there in the opposite corner. Turns out to be JACK WEBB of Dragnet. I've wielded plenty of [Double daggers, in printing] in my time, but don't recall ever seeing them referred to as DIESES. [World's second-highest capital]? Well, crosswords have taught me that Lhasa, Tibet, is the highest; #2 is QUITO, Ecuador. (QUITO's Q is joined by another in the dead center of the grid, plus two Zs, an X, a J, and a pair of Ks.) I have no idea how NOB and [Cribbage jack] relate, and don't care to look that one up. [Erstwhile grp. of 15] is SSRS rather than an organizational acronym, as I'd first thought. [Marxist leader?], 3 letters ending in O, sure looks like MAO but for the question mark; I think I had the N in NEO soon enough not to fall in that trap. I did stick my paw in the [Put on a pedestal] trap, going past tense with IDOLIZED before figuring out it had to be IDEALIZE. A pained spot for other reasons was MY LAI.
  • Fabulous entries: I'M ON A DIET; the FOXHOUND chasing the MACAQUE; HIRELINGS (we need more -ling words! Who's with me, solvelings?); AXEMEN (slang for guitarists); the this-should-help-you pairing of GRADE A'S and A MINUS (unless you've been trained to assume such repetition is taboo—if you've embraced that taboo, Will Shortz repeatedly flouts it in small ways, so it'll help you to forget that "rule" when solving the NYT crossword); and the centerpiece, BEGS THE QUESTION (that link will help you fight on Vic Fleming's side in one of those usage JIHADS).
  • Favorite clues: [It can have its charms] for ANKLET (just two letters different from AMULET—tricky!); [One's native land] for SOD (I confused my kid by saying it was good to be back on the old sod at O'Hare last weekend); [Key letters] for CTRL (not PHIS!); [Jazz greats, e.g.] for NBA STARS; [It's less than perfect] for A MINUS; [Lulu] for CORKER; and [2006 Oscar winner for his first film] for GORE.

So, if you've tackled both of these crosswords, did you find one markedly harder than the other?


The Across Lite version of Merl Reagle's weekend puzzle (labeled as the Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle) actually comes via LA Weekly, which is skipping (an issue? the puzzle?) for the holiday weekend. And the Wall Street Journal puzzle gets converted to Across Lite by Lloyd Mazer, but the puzzle wasn't on the WSJ website early enough, and Lloyd's daughter is getting married this weekend, so we may not see that puzzle either. Use the free time to get outside and relax!

Today's LA Times puzzle by Donna Levin challenged me. Lots of vagueish clues, like [Does some field work] for BALES, and some tricky ones, like [Emile's uniform?] for EGAL (the French adjective, not a noun). The theme entries involve puns on Russian/Soviet region words/names. PUTIN ON AIRS = "putting on airs," MIR BAGATELLE = "mere bagatelle" (a phrase I love), COSSACK STAN = "Kazakhstan," and KIEV SEA MAJOR = ...what, exactly? I don't understand this one at all. The race is on: Will writing those words crack that synapse open in my brain, or will somebody else explain it to me first?

I flew through Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy crossword, "Greenbacks," in nearly Monday-Newsday-level speed. Filled in all the theme entries right off the bat after a couple crossings gave me the first one, which almost never happens. Kinda fun that way!

The May 11 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle is by Jack McInturff. (How much do I love the Chronicle puzzles? So much! Crosswords expressly designed for an academically accomplished audience, no sops to beginning solvers—they're not for everyone, no, but if you crave smart puzzles and aren't doing the CHE crossword each week, you're missing out.) The theme is "Antinovels," so each theme entry swaps out a word in a novel's title for its opposite. Fun for the literary crowd!

This week's Jonesin' puzzle by Matt Jones is called "A Ghost of a Chance." Five long answers spell out four clues, the answers to which are ghost characters from the classic video game, PAC-MAN (67-Across); all four chase Pac-Man, whom the player controls, and the player's job is to eat dots and avoid getting caught by the ghosts. Favorite entry: 51-Down, MULVA, which people who don't care for Seinfeld probably don't know. Fun puzzle!

(I think I just used up the rest of my allotment of exclamationn points for the month.)