August 16, 2007

Friday, 8/17

NYT 5:15
NYS 4:59
Jonesin' 4:17
LAT 3:59
CHE 3:34
CS 3:28

WSJ 8:16

Karen Tracey's on tap for this week's Sun Weekend Warrior, and Roger Barkan's name appears atop the Friday Times puzzle. I thoroughly enjoyed both of their crosswords.

Karen's themeless 70-worder in the New York Sun bears many of the hallmarks I like so much in Karen's puzzles. The marquée entries featuring uncommon letters? Check: JOAQUIN PHOENIX and CZECHOSLOVAKIA rack up a Q, X, Z, J, and K.

Geography? Check: That Scrabbly ex-country, SSRS that have joined the EU, the [Aztec language] NAHUATL, with its unexpected TL ending, and FARSI clued as [Cousin of Kurdish].

Pop culture? Check: That actor, plus ERIC BANA's full name (usually he shows up in the grid as the last name of [Eric of "Munich"], [The second word of "Candle in the Wind"] (NORMA Jean), NORA DUNN from S.N.L., ANN MILLER from Sugar Babies, and ILSA from Casablanca.

Idiomatic or colloquial language? Check: "FLOOR IT," "HOME, JAMES," EL CHEAPO, CRIES WOLF, LOW BLOW.

There's also a little Florida politics, with VERN Buchanan (who replaced Katherine Harris), a hanging CHAD, and voting machine maker [Diebold competitor], NCR. And two fragrances, TABU and ARAMIS (achoo).

My favorite clues: the verb [Stiff] for CHEAT; [Dilettante] for ESTHETE; [GUI piece?] for USER (graphical user interface, pronounced "gooey"—I have a friend with cats named GUI and SCSI); [Addition to a letter] for CEDILLA; [What plomo is transformed into in alquimia] for ORO (gold, made from lead in alchemy); [Bunny bits?] for DUST (as in dust bunnies—did you know there's a guy who collects dust bunnies? It's true!); [Bulb unit] for CLOVE of garlic; and [Encouraging start?] for ATTA (as in "Attagirl!").

Who is ARIE Selinger? He's a 70-year-old who's coached Olympic volleyball. Who is RONA Berg? She wrote a book with 1,000 makeup tips for women. Okay, no woman on this planet needs a thousand "fixes." Why, that's just...insulting.

The New York Times puzzle has 66 answers, and tons of 'em are great (and the grid's groovy, too). Barkan includes geography that resonates for me: the [Caribbean cruise port of call] is CHARLOTTE AMALIE in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and we landed there en route to our honeymoon. APPLETON, Wisconsin, is the [Home of Lawrence University]; we traveled there for my sister-in-law's graduation. Did we drive through [Utah's ___ Mountains], the UINTA Mountains? Possibly. (Did not go to OREM, however.) And I picked up a lot of Indian place names and language names, including the [Language of India with a palindromic name], MALAYALAM, from that college class on Indian history.

However, it's pop culture, not academia, that taught me that [Diwali revelers] are HINDUS, in a cringe-inducing yet funny episode of The Office (American version). More from movies and TV: the TELEVISION PILOT, DOC from Back to the Future, old-time movie actress ZASU Pitts (pronounced ZAY-sue—who knew?), Jean-Claude Van DAMME (so help me, I enjoyed Universal Soldier), and the X-MEN.

The most mystifying partially filled-in answer was 1-Down, [Star performer's reward]. SAN DIEGO with an extra letter stuck in it? A something-INGO? Ah, a STANDING O (vation)! Terrific entry in the way it fought not to be recognized until suddenly, it was.

The absolute best clue here was [Leaves alone, sometimes] for SALAD. Brilliant! Other Down clues I liked: [Got together] for HERDED (I was reading it as an intransitive verb); 9[100, say] for A-PLUS; [Accessories for a secretary] leading you to think plural when the answer's DESK SET; and [Wickiup, for one] means HUT, or wigwam. In the Across direction, [You can sink your feet into them] means SHAG CARPETS; the [Bus line?] is the driver's command, STEP TO THE REAR; EN GARDE is a [Pointed warning?]; and we get a little medical terminology with URIC ACID as a [Major component of kidney stones].

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword this week is called "Let's Have Dessert Outside." The theme entries have other letters filling the CAKE, as in CLAMBAKE and CALLED STRIKE. Newfangledest entries: LAME-ASS, FOOSBALL, and the [Start of some monster B-movie titles], IT CAME. Nice Chinese double-take, with mega-sized YAO Ming and megalomaniac MAO. Two communications clues: [Get hold of, in a way] for EMAIL, and [Phony prefix?] for TELE. I did not at all understand the relationship between [Weed event] and CLAMBAKE; apparently it's drug slang meaning "sitting inside a car or other small, enclosed space and smoking marijuana." Live and learn, eh?


The August 3 Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle by Annemarie Brethauer is called "Standing Innovations." The theme entries are those crazy structures—such as the UNISPHERE and the SPACE NEEDLE—built for the WORLD'S FAIR in various years and cities. The puzzle seemed to be fairly easy, but there are plenty of clues that call on broad knowledge. Peru has mountains called the Cordillera BLANCA? Fanny HILL is a John Cleland heroine? ESTO is here as [Word in Idaho's state motto].

Which reminds me: In How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, each crossword has three paragraphs of "Hints and Tips." I think these were originally envisioned as Dummies-style callouts on the puzzle pages, but given th 6x9 trim size, the Hints and Tips moved to the end of the book. But there's a wealth of information there, particularly for the newer solver. One of those quasi-crosswordese words may launch a discussion of related words. For one puzzle with ORO clued as part of Montana's state motto, I wrote this:

Clues for ORO sometimes reference Montana’s motto, “Oro y plata.” Other state mottoes that get play in crosswords include “Ad ASTRA per ASPERA” (Kansas), “ESSE quam videri” (North Carolina, “ENSE petit placidam sub libertate quietem” (Massachusetts), “ESTO perpetua” (Idaho), “Salus populi suprema lex ESTO” (Missouri), “Live free OR DIE” (New Hampshire), “ALIS volat propriis” (Oregon), and “L’étoile du NORD” (Minnesota). MGM’s motto is “Ars gratia artis,” while the Prince of Wales says “Ich dien.”

It took some doing to assemble the theme in Harvey Estes' CrosSynergy crossword, "The West of the Story." It's got an exchange between MAE West and George RAFT, in which he said "GOODNESS / WHAT BEAUTIFUL / DIAMONDS," and she replied, "GOODNESS / HAD NOTHING / TO DO WITH IT." Interesting to have 22-Across's GOODNESS pulling double duty here. Oddly, I encountered 11-Down, [Response to a sneeze], about 10 seconds after I sneezed. Harvey says BLESS YOU; I stick with "Gesundhheit!"

Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword is a tribute to ELMER FUDD, who had twubble saying his Rs. Four phwases have TR or CR words that get twisted into QU or TW words: FALCON QUEST, for example. In the fill, I learned that there's a band called DAMONE, and apparently I might know them if I played video games. Some great fill: FLOTILLA, the [Exclamation from Poirot] "MON DIEU," LAST STOP on the line, a CUE STICK, BLUE LAW, and SUNDRY (which is a word I like).

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke co-constructed the Wall Street Journal puzzle, playing with the sort of phrases that pop up in "Market Speak." What might happen with guillotine stock? It WENT DOWN SHARPLY. That was my favorite theme entry. And miniskirts GOT SOLD SHORT. There are seven other theme entries, some of them shorter 7-, 8-, or 9-letter words/phrases, but those two were the ones I liked best.