August 25, 2007

Sunday, 8/26

NYT 11:28
BG 10:10
LAT 9:43
PI 8:04
WaPo 7:01
CS 4:18

Strange thing, that. Last night I overimbibed and still finished the Saturday Times puzzle about 15% faster than Byron Walden, my NYT applet benchmark. Today I spent 12 hours with my son, two nephews, and assorted kids (and plenty of grown-ups) at the Museum of Science and Industry, and I finished the Sunday puzzle about 25% slower than Byron. Sheesh, I probably shouldn't drive after spending that much time with young children. Clouds the noggin!

The New York Times puzzle, "Getting Ahead," is credited to two constructors, Andrew Greene and Craig Kasper, but Craig let me know that he and Andrew had two other collaborators, Todd McClary and Jeffrey Harris, who would perhaps be listed as co-constructors if the byline had enough room. This marks Andrew's debut, and if you happen to take any photos of people solving this puzzle, he'd love to get a copy. The theme of the foursome's puzzle is getting a head into the grid: The circled squares spell out facial/head features in the appropriate places. HAIR atop SCALP over the BROWS, a pair of EYES with vertical EARS just past them, a NOSE in the middle, and LIPS and CHIN holding the whole thing up. These 10 body parts are contained within long "theme entries," unrelated but for the inclusion of facial features. And look, over there at 80-Across—somebody's got a TOE dangling from an EAR. (Here are some badger toe bone earrings to complete the puzzle.)

What took me longer than usual? Well, that whole 1-Across corner fought me, for one. The [Toddler's mealtime accessory] is a BOOSTER CHAIR, but somehow having a 7-year-old means I've wiped the slate clean of toddler memories. The cross-referencing of 1-Across to 7-Across, which in turn referenced 1-Across and 61-Across, was kind of a nasty trick. (The EMBLEM of the IMAC is an APPLE.) The [Steve Martin romantic comedy] killed me, too—I thought of ALL OF ME and ROXANNE (but not THE JERK) when the 7-letter movie title needed was L.A. STORY. Ack! Cluing EBB as a noun ([Point of decline]) and sprinkling in BORAXO ([Heavy-duty hand soap]) and MOORAGE ([Dock payment]) didn't help that corner fall easily.

Favorite clues: [Crawl space?] for PUB; [Safari, e.g.] for WEB BROWSER; [Knight time?] for YORE; [___ Rose] for AXL; [Worth trying?] for ACTIONABLE, as in giving cause for legal action (here is an entertaining rant about the word being shanghaied by corporatese types); and [Subj. follower] for PRED. (short for predicate, as learned from Schoolhouse Rock's "The Tale of Mr. Morton"). Why is a KAZOO a [Skiffle instrument]? Skiffle is a "type of folk music with a jazz and blues influence, usually using homemade or improvised instruments."

Unfavorite aspects: ACIDY and RETAG are the kind of words that may appear at the end of a dictionary entry for the main word, in a fat and comprehensive dictionary, but don't get much use in the language. They're thisclose to being "roll your own" words. BLARNEYED ([Persuaded with flattery]) as a verb, also not as common as the noun blarney. That word and HEYERDAHL ([Noted explorer of Polynesia]) contain EYEs and the A of the crossing EARs. [Defense contractor whose stock symbol is the same as its name] is much less fun than Cousin Itt when it comes to ITT clues. I didn't know [Creatio ex ___ (Christian tenet)]; here's a definition of creatio ex NIHILO.


Henry Hook's onlineBoston Globe puzzle, "Takeout Menu," strips the theme entries of a word in the clue, leaving an incomplete answer. Thus, [Thrill-seeker, out of tune?] is soldier of fortune minus tune, or SOLDIER OF FOR. Most obscure clue/answer, for me: [College basketball's Coach of the Year Award eponym] for Henry IBA, a complete unknown to me. (I wasn't following Oklahoma State hoops action during my toddler years, nor before I was born.) It's a tad surprising that this name doesn't find its way into crosswords more often. Two-thirds vowels?

Harvey Estes' themeless CrosSynergy puzzle, is packed with lots of colloquialisms, so it's a fun solve.

Gail Grabowski's syndicated LA Times puzzle, "In Reverse," adds BACK to the end of each theme entry, since BACK can change the meaning of the second part of each theme entry. I was fooled by the first theme entry, DIAMOND CUTBACK, because diamondback is also a meaningful word, but actually, the theme hinges on diamond cut and cutback. (Unless, that is, chicken back and jelly back are meaningful entities...)

Robert Doll's Washington Post crossword, "I Spy," has seven theme entries starting with spy-type words, like SECRET (INGREDIENT), UNSEEN (DANGER) and CRYPTIC (CROSSWORD). Nice theme, and a super-smooth, easy solve.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer offering, "A Kinder, Gentler Puzzle," puns on nine violent phrases to make them more palatable. For example, Give 'Em Hell, Harry morphs into GIVE 'EM HELP, HARRY, and barroom brawlers no longer have blood on their hands, they have spilled BUD ON THEIR HANDS.