October 04, 2007

Friday, 10/5

NYS 7:25
NYT 7:17
LAT 5:05
Jonesin' 4:15
CHE 3:41
CS 2:24

WSJ 7:16

One of my favorite early-in-the-week constructors, Lynn Lempel, has crafted a Friday New York Times puzzle that reminds me of Karen Tracey's themeless crosswords. And it's hard! Like, Saturday hard! Either that or I was tired, but I think this puzzle's a toughie. I took a couple wrong turns—the EXIT LANE tried to be an exit ramp, the MINUTE MARK tried to be a minute hand (though a hand is certainly not a [Watch notch]), and [Many a monthly check writer] tried to be renter rather than TENANT. [Navigation hazard] usually seems to be a reef or a berg, but here it's DENSE FOG at 1-Across, and SHOAL at 32-Down. With all the famous Benedicts out there, BENEDICT was clued as the lowercase noun meaning [Married man who had long been a bachelor; the word comes from Shakespeare's Benedick, which is spelled differently. I'd never heard of PHI [phenomenon (optical illusion)].

Today's question-marked clues posed challenges. [Special delivery?] is a PREMIE (I prefer the preemie spelling). A team [Missing the point?] is SCORELESS. [Drawer units?] are an animator's CELS. [Acts on a gut feeling?] is EATS. [Bunny backer?] is HEFNER. [Put under?] is SEDATED. [Past prime time?] is LATE IN LIFE, not late at night.

My favorite clues and answers: [Coolness] for APLOMB (because I like that word); [Island republic] for EIRE (c'mon, who else thought it'd be some Pacific island nation?); [Top of some scales] for TEN; [Where workers gather] for APIARIES; '60s quarterback Y.A. TITTLE, because that's an awesome name; [Some athletes shoot them] for STEROIDS (hello, Marion Jones); GETS CARRIED AWAY sprawling down the middle of the grid; the Chi-LITES, [1970s R&B group]; ["Pleasant dreams"] for SLEEP TIGHT (tricky in that night ends with the same four letters); the [Seed-separating gizmo] is a PEA SHELLER (available for home use!); [Ordained] for DECREED; and Scrabbly Hamid KARZAI, the Afghan president. I like a SPARROW flitting about, but did not know it was the name of a [U.S. air-to-air missile]; what, they couldn't give pigeons a bad name instead?

The third of the asymmetrical themeless New York Sun puzzles is by Henry Hook. This one's got 71 answers, two of them (PHOTOGRAPH ALBUM and THREE TIMES A LADY, sung by Lionel Richie when he was still in the Commodores—and did you know he's ridiculously popular in the Arab world?) spanning the 15-letter width of the grid. The remainder of the grid is irregular—long stacked answers here, a chunk of 6's there, assorted 8- to 10-letter answers crisscrossing one another throughout.

Tough clues for long and short answers alike, and precious few gimmes to lend a hand. Clues I liked and/or struggled with the most: [Figure in Hemingway's "Death in the Afternoon"] for TORO, a bull; [Entrée that may cost you a few bucks?] for VENISON; [It has staying power] for CORSET; [Down-easters' soda fountains] for SPAS; present-tense [Set in opposition] for PIT; [Blend named for William IV's prime minister] for EARL GREY tea; [Bone cavity] for ANTRUM (yay, medical terminology! The plural is antra), right on top of [Pertaining to makeup] for ANATOMICAL; the noun [Pique] for RESENTMENT; [Cartoon Network trio] for ED, EDD N EDDY, a show my son has watched (they call the second one "Double-D"); [One who may make a fortune in oil?] for a particularly successful ARTIST; [Sue Grafton's "N Is for ___"] NOOSE (upending the more common clue, [Sue Grafton's "___ for Noose"]); [Culture vultures' hangout] for THE OPERA (man, that A wanted to be a Latinate plural ending); [Benched players use them] for PIANOS; [Christina Ricci's "Black Snake Moan" role] for 3-letter RAE (thank you, Entertainment Weekly review, for teaching me this); old-timey [79 Wistful Vista surname of old radio] for MCGEE (Molly and Fibber, I presume?); [Dashing fellow?] for Samuel MORSE and his dash/dot code; and [Yclept] for NAMED (I love yclept and wish we had another extant word with that beginning).

There were a couple wicked crossings in this Sun puzzle. There's 13-Across with 4- and 5- Down—there is not another R in [Certain cryptogam], so that's about a FERN and not cryptogram puzzles. The Chris Messina film IRA & Abby didn't get much traction at the box office, did it? Basically, I guessed the laundry soap ERA and hoped for the best, and it worked out. Where 7-Down crosses 14-Across also stymied me—[Minion of Fearless Leader] means BORIS (from Rocky and Bullwinkle, no?), and that long quote must be from Abba EBAN.

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "Mildly Unhealthy," is chock-full of what's bad for you: A trio of theme entries contain LDL embedded within them, and LDL is 51-Across (BAD CHOLESTEROL). Tons of saturated fat in this puzzle, too—consider the buttery richness of [Pinto, not garbanzo] for CAR; [Split component] for bowling PIN; Tony HALE of Arrested Development; PLAY A CD to hear some music; UBU, the dog seen after the closing credits of Family Ties ("Sit, Ubu, sit."); and [It sounds like "uh"] for SCHWA. (That reminds me—anyone know how to make a schwa appear via keyboard?) A couple answers and clues are larded with naughtiness: the dominatrix's CAGE crosses SEXY, and ASS is [What horrible food might taste like].


I dug the theme in Jim Leeds' LA Times crossword: a letter tacked onto the start of five Latin phrases. If you've paid attention to the Latin words included in state mottoes, PESTO PERPETUA (Idaho's motto is "Esto perpetua") flowed smoothly. SQUID PRO QUO serves up a pair of Qs, and SEX OFFICIO a Scrabbly X. Least favorite clue: [Exec's accessory] for TIE. Excuse me, are all executives men? They are not. Favorite clues: [They aren't long shots] for PUTTS; [Like Sarah Lawrence, since 1966] for COED (in the late '60s, the college began accepting male students for the first time—and this is a fantastic clue for COED); [Stretch] for LOOSEN UP; [Links specialist?] for IHOP (breakfast sausage, not golf); and [727 in Florida, e.g.] for AREA CODE (not the jet). Least well-known fact: SHAN is a [Language related to Thai].

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle seemed Monday-easy. The title, "Caveat Emptor," signals that the theme entries begin with BETTER, BUSINESS, and BUREAU.

Michael Ashley's September 21 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword is easy, but not as easy as the CrosSynergy puzzle. The theme in "You Dirty Rats!" is famous traitors, and with the help of VIDKUN QUISLING, the puzzle's a pangram. I do enjoy the CHE puzzles that include a trivia quiz as the theme.

The Wall Street Journal crossword, "If the Shoe Fits," is credited to Natalia Shore, an anagram of another alias for WSJ puzzle editor Mike Shenk. Seven theme phrases have sneaker brands embedded within them (in the highlighted squares). The funniest clue was [Donald Duck's lack]: PANTS. (Poor guy.) 1-Across was given to me by the movie, Wordplay—when Merl Reagle was filling his grid for the WORD/PLAY crossword, he contemplated using REDTOP, in the dictionary as a grass. Here it's [Lawn grass with colorful flowers]. Overall this crossword was light (but not too light), peppered with glints like DON'T GO, PSYCH UP, and SCOOT IN, no real knotty spots.