September 13, 2007

Friday, 9/14

NYS 6:40—The Sun is a brilliant must-do! Solve it before reading the blog.
NYT 5:13
Jonesin' 4:03
LAT 3:59
CS 3:21

WSJ 7:58

John Samson, who edits the Simon & Schuster crossword book series, sent me a copy of the latest volume, #257. I'll be digging into that book and a couple other recent S&S volumes this winter for American Crossword Puzzle Tournament training. (If you've done ACPT puzzles, you've noticed that there are 17x17 and 19x19 grids—which are hard to come by outside of the S&S books and the occasional Games puzzle.) John let it slip that a book due out in January 2008, the hefty Simon & Schuster Mega Crossword Puzzle Book #1, will include my name in one puzzle (!). The theme is "Premier Puzzlers," and I'm clued as [2005 ACPT champion (Div. B)]. Looks like there are seven ACPT overall champions in the puzzle too (1978, 1987, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2007), along with another B champion (2007). I'm not going to look them up—it'll be more fun to guess the names based on letter counts and the odd crossing letter. If you're in the puzzle, I think it is incumbent upon you to give your folks a copy of the book so they can brag about your fame.

Now, on with the day's crosswords.

Patrick Berry has crafted a tour de force for the New York Sun: The middle five columns (with circled letters in Across Lite) are unclued, and you have to rely on the Across answers, the title "Color Change," and the clues for 4- and 57-Across ([Beginning of a transformation] and [End of the transformation]) to figure out what's what. (The Across Lite Notepad merely informs the solver that the print edition includes no clues for the five columns in the center.) So what's what? There's a word ladder, that's what. And not merely a word ladder with 4-letter words, either—this one's got 5-letter words. And all but three of them are also part of a longer Across answer. In a sense, the Across answers that aren't checked by Down answers still do have checking, as 4 of the 5 letters will be the same above and below. At the end, you're left with 4- and 67-Across and have to change a letter from the adjacent row to get an apt pair for the "Color Change" title: BLACK and WHITE.

If that's not enough (and really, it was!), there's more: The fill is lusciously Scrabbly, with a single Z, Q, and X along with two Js and quartets of Ks and Vs. You might think the answers that include the word ladder pieces would be iffy, but we have Milton's BLANK VERSE of Paradise Lost; a little GOSLING with the misleading* clue, [It gets further down with time], down being goosedown; SWINE FEVER; and GHOST-WRITE ([Take cash but not credit] is also a smart misdirect). Stepping off the ladder, we have STYX crossing QUERY, RAZE crossing RAJIV Gandhi.

Other clues that caught my eye: the vague verb [Compact] for TAMP; [Turn about] doubling up for SLUE and SWING, one after the other; [A little way in?] for PORE (wait, what goes into a pore rather than out?); baseball commissioner [Bud Selig's real first name] for ALLAN (pointless trivia, but look! A new clue for ALLAN. I'll take it!); and [Red Bull New York soccer coach Bruce] for ARENA (all I could remember of his surname was that it began and ended with A). I never heard of [Buddy of the Songwriters Hall of Fame], but Buddy DESYLVA was a Tin Pan Alley songwriter, a stage and film producer, and a cofounder of Capital Records.

Executive summary: Kerplunk! Overall excellence slathered like buttercream frosting on top of a sweet and unbelievably rich gimmick = this cruciverbal torte is going in the Great Puzzles folder as one of the year's best.

*Misleading = wonderful.

Moving to the New York Times crossword, John Farmer brings us a beautiful themeless 70-word puzzle. Each quadrant has a show-stopper or two: VERKLEMPT ([Choked up]) in the upper left, a PASTRAMI sandwich in the upper right (who can forget Seinfeld's George successfully wooing a woman by saying that he always felt pastrami was the most sensual of all the cured meats?), a SOUL PATCH down below (the teeny-weeny beard sported by Frank Zappa and Dizzy Gillespie, and QUIXOTIC ([Starry-eyed]) in the remaining corner.

Favorite answers: SOPOR ([Lethargy] and the root of soporific—I also like torpor); ABORIGINE (which means [Early inhabitant] anywhere, not just in Australia); QEII (Queen Elizabeth II, the [Modern-day monarch, for short]; the cross-referenced combo of Brian ENO and his AMBIENT music; the LAO people of Thailand and Laos crossing the Chinese LAO TZU (who can also be spelled Laozi, Lao Tse, Laotze, or Lao Zi); the MUSSED UP and NEAT combo; the GAZA STRIP; and QUANTA (plural of quantum, [Fundamental energy units]).

Favorite clues: [Muscleman with a 1980s cartoon series] for MR T; [Subject of interest in the question, "Who are you wearing?] for a GOWN worn on the red carpet; [Movie villain voiced by Douglas Rain] for evil 2001 computer HAL; [Spell checker?] for a magical AMULET; ["Take ___ the River" (Talking Heads hit)] for ME TO (enjoy a video of a live performance, big suit and all); the surprisingly straightforward [Spanish kitties] for GATOS; [Doesn't support a conspiracy theory?] for ACTS ALONE; [Moon of Uranus named for a Shakespearean character] for OBERON (heh, heh, he said "moon" and "Uranus"); [Available] for IN PRINT, like books; and [Largest of the ABC islands] for CURACAO (A and B are Aruba and Bonaire).

Crazy intersection: [Actress Nancy of "Sunset Boulevard"] crossing [Old-time actress Crabtree]—is it OLSEN and LETTA or OLSON and LOTTA? Turns out it's OLSON and LOTTA. Medical terminology for the day: GAVAGE, or [Forced feeding, as with a tube].


The theme in Kurt Mengel and Jan-Michele Gianette's LA Times puzzle is straightforward, but I had to fill in an awful lot of the grid in order to see what it was. Each theme entry squeezes in a DIS- before the final word, transforming phrases into TAKE-OUT DISORDER ([Problematic deli syndrome?]), HEAVEN DISSENT, GOLF DISCOURSE, and CABBAGE DISPATCH ([Wired money?]). There's some dreadful Latin from a state motto, but fortunately it's in the IDAHO clue, [Its motto is "Esto perpetua"], rather than ESTO being clued as [Idaho motto word]. (Here's my refresher course on state mottoes that get play in crosswords.) Lots of deft clues here: [Star with potential] for NOVA and [Star witnesses?] for MAGI; [Additional ones not itemized] for REST and [And addtl. ones not itemized] for ET AL; ["___ put hair on your chest"] for IT'LL (my son likes to think that onions will put hair in his armpits); [One of the British?] for ISLE; ["___-12": '60s-'70s police drama] for ADAM (ah, childhood nostalgia); [Beijing-born violinist Frank] for HUANG (that's a new name for me. Note to self: remember name.); [They may be screened] for DOORS; the looks-like-a-verb [Trusted] for RELIABLE; and [Place enjoyed by Sundance] for ETTA (Etta Place from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, not Utah, home of the Sundance Film Festival).

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle asks the solver to distinguish between Bill Nye and Bill Nighy, Mark Wahlberg and Mark L. Walberg, Michael Haydn and Gen. Michael Hayden, and Henrik Ibsen and Henry Gibson. It's easier than it sounds, because you get most of the info in the clues—for example, you only need one word to finish [...while Mark L. Walberg currently hosts PBS's "___ Roadshow"], and you can probably do that without knowing this guy. CLAQUE is a [Group hired to applaud a performance]; I recently learned the word from Patrick Blindauer and like it (it dates back to early-1800s France and is the forebear of today's canned laughter. Favorite clues: the completely grammatical [You was once this] for THEE; [Anatomical in-between area] for TAINT; and [Discovery Channel game show with a host/driver] for CASH CAB (that link's a clip of constructor Tony Orbach's appearance on the show).

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Blast Off!", plays the prefix countdown with TRI-, BI-, and UNI- words followed by "THREE...TWO...ONE," blast off. [Pawning place] clues HOCK SHOP; in my town, it seems that a hocking place is a pawn shop rather than the other way around. Perhaps "hock shop" skews toward being a Canadian usage?

In the larger format, we've got today's Wall Street Journal crossword, Elizabeth Gorski's "Crunch Time." Each theme entry has an OREO tucked inside, and BLACK AND WHITE SANDWICH and OREOS also show up to make the theme crystal-clear. The name Catherine AIRD was new to me—she writes crime novels, mainly, which I don't read. A lot of art and artists in this puzzle: MAGRITTE, DALI, the SISTINE Chapel ceiling for visual arts; a VIOL and the LEONORE OVERTURE for the music arena; MERCEDES for automotive beauty.