May 15, 2007

Wednesday, 5/16

John here again one more time. It's been fun being part of the guest blogging squad. I have learned a bunch reading all the posts these couple of weeks, and enjoyed the experience. I also have a special appreciation for the work that the Fiend does each and every day. I thank her for the opportunity, but am also glad to hand back the keys to the palace when she returns.

Without further ado, on to the puzzles!

N.Y. Times Puzzle by Patrick Blindauer

This is one fun puzzle that Patrick (B2) has put together! (Another "Patrick" puz for me to blog.) The cool thing here: you get to solve a puzzle and play a game at the same time.

The game is TIC TAC TOE (I admit it, I play for a tie), and each makes an appearance as the start of a 10-letter theme answer: TICKLE PINK, TACHOMETER, TOE THE LINE. Linking them is CHILD’S PLAY (which probably doesn't describe making this puzzle) in the SE corner, and best of all, a 3x3 section in the center filled with Xs and Os. The way it looks to me, the three Xs at 34D [Adult-only] have it.

I had to think a bit about what combination of Xs and Os made [Kisses and hugs, in a love letter], but the only one that makes good sense for the logic of the puzzle is XOO. That’s the way I see it. Any other opinions?

I have a feeling this puzzle will generate some comments (assuming the gods at haloscan cooperate), so I won’t say too much here.

I thought the theme was very well-executed. I vaguely remember seeing TIC-TAC-TOE before, but nothing like this. Elsewhere, I enjoyed the two adjacent [Breakfast spot, briefly] clues (I had IHOP in the wrong place at first), I didn’t mind the bit of geographical obscurity, New Guinea's LAE, and I'm glad to see Ed OTT (the man with the shortest name in baseball history) get into a puzzle every once in a while (the few times when Mel's name needs to be plural).

Sun Puzzle by Pete Mitchell, “Gimme Shelter”

Some titles feel as though they’re added as an afterthought, and some, like this one, feel as though they may have been there at the puzzle’s conception. I like “Gimme Shelter” because it’s a good fit for the theme, without giving away too much, and it brings back memories of my younger days and the many hours I spent listening to the Stones. "Gimme Shelter" is not only an iconic song but also a documentary film that captures one of the more infamous moments in the history of rock.

None of this has anything to do with the puzzle, which is not about the Stones or, for that matter, shelter (at least not of the protection-from-the-elements, fallout, or air-raid variety, if that’s where you were headed). The title alludes to the name we find tucked away in the SE corner, LEE. Hardly a week goes by without seeing LEE in a puzzle somewhere, though only on rare occasion do we see it clued as it’s defined the dictionary: shelter. (Its close cousin ALEE seems to get the “shelter” cluing treatment more often.)

LEE is a popular name, both first and last, and its use as a surname is what ties together the four 15-letter theme entries crossing the grid. Each is a multiword name or phrase with part of the first word being the given name of a famous LEE. So STAND-UP COMEDIAN (deftly clued [Rock, e.g.]) leads to comic book demigod STAN LEE (nice numbers, Spidey). (Fwiw, my RHUD (2nd ed.) says “stand-up” entered the language in the 1580s and “stand-down” in the 1920s, a 340-year gap. No further comment.) The clue [1992, to Queen Elizabeth II] offered me a gimme, ANNUS HORRIBILIS (still a better year for the royals than 1997, if you ask me). Another gimme for the [City in upstate New York with horse racing]; the 15 letters of SARATOGA SPRINGS were fresh in my mind since Florida’s SARASOTA SPRINGS made it into a recent puzzle. Finally, ANGER MANAGEMENT, which was not a gimme since the movie tagline “Feel the love” meant nothing to me. So if you’re keeping score at home, those final three LEEs are ANN, the Shakers lady, SARA, the “Nobody doesn’t like...” girl, and ANG, the Eat Drink Man Woman guy. (Those other LEEs — Spike, Jason, Harper, Peggy, Robert E., and Gypsy Rose — get to watch from the sidelines.)

Otherwise, nothing more than six letters, and none of the high-scoring Scrabble quartet (J, Q, X, Z), but still some fun to be found in the grid. In opposite corners, some tricky letter combos: TBALL (not my first thought for [Activity for young swingers?]) and TVSET [Remote target]. A few lively snippets of dialog: MISS ME? / NO, SIR / OH, DARN. Poor guy? YEAH. And some clever cluing: EEE is [Like a fat mule, perhaps?].

Add to that, if you want to play, the toys. Right smack in the middle is TONKA, and on the lower right, EASY-Bake Oven (which was easy unless you thought it was EZ). Know something these two have in common? This: they are two toys inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame! Who knew there was such a thing? Click away to discover all 36 members, including the dolls (Barbie, G.I. Joe, Raggedy Ann), the board games (Monopoly, Scrabble, Candy Land), and other faves (marbles, jacks, alphabet blocks). What I’d like to know is how the cardboard box got to be in the Toy HOF! If you’re thinking that your Xmas shopping just got a whole lot easier, I wouldn’t bet on Junior being amused. He may end up popping Pop with his POPGUN (which isn’t in the HOF but I liked seeing in the puzzle).

Ink Well Puzzle by Ben Tausig, “A Round 8”

The title here refers to the Magic 8-Ball, the classic kid’s toy that offers indisputable proof that there are more than two ways to answer a yes-no question. There are 20 standard answers, in fact, each written on a face of an icosahedron floating inside a Magic 8-Ball. No word on how Ben decided which three made it into the puzzle, but maybe he followed this procedure. Let’s hope he didn’t drink the blue liquid.

It’s a 70-word grid, fairly open for a themed puzzle, and some excellent selections providing the fill. I liked SKIP A BEAT, GAS RANGE, and REST EASY, along with some clever clues for CHECKERS [Game of kings?] and especially DIPLOMA [Wall paper?].

A couple of other nice touches were the clues for ITO [Judge who Wikipedia calls “regular fodder for crossword puzzles”] and IMIT [“You tagged me...”], the latter avoiding the more commonly used abbreviation.

And if you wonder if the Magic 8-Ball is in the National Toy Hall of Fame, DON’T COUNT ON IT. I can see it being a future inductee, though, and you may get a different answer if you ASK AGAIN LATER. With icon-status and longevity two criteria for selection, I’d say SIGNS POINT TO YES.

Onion A.V. Club Puzzle by Byron Walden

Here’s a before-and-after theme with an added twist. Each of the four theme entries begins with a before-name starting with a double initial. First up we get JJ EVANS, the sitcom character played by Jimmie Walker (this one, not that one) paired with EVANS AND NOVAK, the longtime political columnist team. I can’t help but smile thinking of the “Dy-no-mite” comedian and the pundits together — that’s quite an image — and this was my favorite theme entry. My reaction to the others was similar to Al’s. I wasn’t familiar with the Mister Rogers puppet KING FRIDAY (XIII), and TOP BUTTONS didn’t ring a bell for me either.

Lots to recommend in this puzzle, in any case. The fill is stellar throughout, and I don’t think Byron is capable of making a puzzle without some real sparklers. (Last week at the UCLA event Will Shortz was talking about “lively fill” and he read off about a dozen examples to make his point. They were all in a single puzzle, a themeless of Byron’s from 11/05.) From this week’s Onion: ABOUT A BOY on top of ROY ROGERS, PUSH-UP BRA, BOTTOM LEFT (finishing in the bottom left), names like EMO PHILIPS (extra points for getting both names in), RIGOLETTO, and ANNA MARIA Mozart, and adjacent Down entries in the center, TITIPU, IN TRUTH, and GOES TO / SHOW. That’s lively.