October 03, 2007

Thursday, 10/4

NYS 6:18
CS 4:55
LAT 4:33
NYT 3:07

Hey, kids! It's Commemoratives Thursday! Yes, it looks like this date in 1957 was a busy one, indeed. The New York Times crossword by Sheldon Benardo follows last Friday's Wall Street Journal puzzle and Sunday's Washington Post puzzle in marking the 50th anniversary of SPUTNIK kicking off the space age on October 4, 1957. (Incidentally, does anyone else amuse themselves by describing darn near any plasticky material as being "made of space-age polymers," or is it just me?) As the theme unspools it, the SATELLITE called SPUTNIK launched the SPACE RACE, in which the leading Russian and American astronauts (or cosmonauts, if you prefer) were YURI GAGARIN and ALAN SHEPARD. Kinda cute to include the Trekkie STARDATE ([Enterprise log entry]) in a puzzle about real space travel, no? One super-duper out-of-left-field answer in this puzzle, FERNDALE (the clue, [Detroit suburb named for the plants the area was once overgrown with], at least gives away the plant half of the name, and the crossings were all reasonable). [Van ___]/HALEN amused me by feeling unexpected. (Other rock content: Paul McCartney's BASS, an AMP, AXL Rose, and producer CLIVE Davis.) Tons of other names in this puzzle, too, which tends to correspond to a quick and fun solve for me. (Not everyone loves the names and pop culture, I know.)

The very same day, American TV sets received Leave It to Beaver for the first time. It's that anniversary that Lynn Lempel's New York Sun puzzle marks. The centerpiece is CLEAVER, [Last name of a TV family that premiered October 4, 1957]. The Cleaver family spins out around the center: dad WARD (HEELER), mom JUNE (BRIDE), protagonist BEAVER (DAM), and older brother WALLY(WORLD). Too bad there was no space for Wally's pals, Eddie Haskell and the inimitable Lumpy. (My son has no friends named Lumpy. What are we doing wrong?) BEAVER DAM is clued as [Channel blocker], but it's also a town in Wisconsin where my freshman-year roommate hailed from. WALLYWORLD's clue is [Nickname of baseball player Joyner or basketball player Szczerbiak]—I don't know either of those guys. [Cry during a faena] is OLE; what, pray tell, is a faena? It is "The series of final passes performed by a matador preparatory to killing a bull in a bullfight". Oh! [Tree with berries used to make wine] is ELDER. Last week, Ben and I went out to visit my mom and out in the restored wetlands near her house, she identified some berries as elderberries and told Ben they were edible. She generally knows her plants, so I trusted her judgment. The kid ate two and said they were sour and had small seeds, not big ones. I tried one and spat it out. My mom tried one and spat it out and said, "That's not elderberry. I guess you shouldn't trust me on plants any more." She looked up the plant in some field guides back at home: Yep, she tried to poison us with pokeweed. (We were just fine.)


Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle, "An Ounce of Prevention," is a quip puzzle, but it's not a hackneyed quip and the crossword's got those Klahnian clues I tend to enjoy. Even creaky old RARA avis gets a clue that elucidates beyond the instant-crosswordese-response fill-in-the-blank—[___ avis (one in a million)]. Sure, I don't know anyone who uses the phrase in conversation, but tying it to an in-the-language phrase is a deft touch. The quip, clued as [Barely useful advice] ("barely" with two meanings here), is TO COOL ANY / URGE TO RUN AROUND / NAKED, RUB ON / SOME WINDEX. / IT'LL STOP YOU FROM / STREAKING. I think this line belongs in Hints from Heloise.

The LA Times crossword is by David Kahn. The theme entries in this FINDING NEMO puzzle have a NEMO embedded in them. What elevates this a notch above similar puzzles in the past is the cross-referencing between pairs of theme entries: JULIANNE MOORE was in NINE MONTHS, and the Pixar fish Nemo dwelled in a SEA ANEMONE. (Sammy Davis Jr.'s ONE MORE TIME is left hanging, alas.)