November 29, 2007

Friday, 11/30

NYS 10:12
NYT 5:09
LAT 4:29
CHE 3:35
CS 3:29
Jonesin' 3:12

WSJ 8:47

The Friday New York Times crossword by Henry Hook was a good bit easier than his other recent NYT and Sun themeless offerings, and that's just fine with me. It also relates a fun tale in several of the longer Across answers, this exhortation: CLERGYMEN, CROSS-DRESS MINDFULLY—LOOK BETTER! Add "GEE, YA THINK?!" and cartoonist R CRUMB, and you've got all my favorite fill here.

Favorite clues: [Indication of stress] for UNDERSCORE—I was thinking more along the lines of SWEAT BEADS rather than typographical stress. (Speaking of which: There's a Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood that emphasizes a word in a hand-lettered sign with an overscore. Don't try this at home, kids!) VONDA is clued as [Sci-fi author McIntyre] (never heard of her) rather than that other Vonda of Ally McBeal song fame, Ms. Shepard. [Minimal change] is CENT; I first went with DENT, but hey, my second-grader's math homework today was calculating change in pennies so it should've come to me sooner. CLERGYMEN are [Cloth workers?]. [Sculptor Oldenburg] was the gimme CLAES; my favorite of his sculptures are Batcolumn and Spoonbridge with Cherry. [Direct] could mean a number of things, but here it means NONSTOP, as a flight. PROM is a [Senior moment?]. [One who's happy when things look black] isn't that perverse—it's a BOOKKEEPER. CROSS-DRESS is clued [Undergo a change of habit?]. [Pompadour, for one] is MADAME (bet you also tried HAIRDO there). [Prerecorded] has an extraneous "pre," so it's an apt clue for the oxymoronic LIVE ON TAPE. The lettuce CRISPER is [Where cooler heads prevail?]. I even liked the ODER-NEISSE [Line (German/Polish border)]; at last, payoff for all those [__-Neisse Line] clues.

The New York Sun puzzle, Matt Ginsberg and Pete Muller's "Squeeze Play," sure did start out slowly. After a minute and a half of perusing clues, I had a whopping three letters in the grid.

Given the crossword's title, I suspected there was some squeezing going on, but which entries? How many letters squeezed into a box? Having been the sort of kid who dug those informational cards about animals and whose mom bought her a subscription to the cards, I knew the [Largest rodent in existence] was likely the CAPYBARA, but the space was seven letters. So I conjectured that the squeeze happened in the middle entry and tried out CAP[YB]ARA, and that got things rolling. There were not many gimmes—David LYNCH directed Eraserhead, and USERS are who go to methadone clinics. The three longest entries, two 10s and an 11, are actually two 20s and a 22 since each square's got two letters. They're double-themed, too: [YO][U T][WO][MA][KE][QU][IT][E A] [PA][IR], DOUBLE-ENTRY BOOKKEEPING, and YOU'D BETTER THINK TWICE. All but eight of the Down answers cross squeeze-play squares, too. "With construction constraints like these, Orange," you say, "surely the fill is blah." Au contraire! We get ZOOMING crossing the longish ADMITTI[NG], CLINTON and HEDGING; LL COOL J; COO[KT]OP beside RED [WI]NE ([Cab, e.g.]), "Rikki-TI[KK]I-Tavi" with the double-K.

Favorite clues: [Word with dead and zone] for DROP (no Dead Zone tie-in); [Like a flâneur] for IDLE; [Prep for dragging] for REV the engine before a drag race, along with [Dragged things] for computer ICONS; 38-Across, [With 38-Across, where you might end up if you don't 38-Across], for SING (Sing-Sing prison); [Overnight letter?] for INN (a place that lets rooms overnight); ODS-[bobs (mild oath)] (here's a fun read about minced oaths, ranging from zounds and crikey to drat and ods-bobs); [Heat source?] for MIAMI, home of the NBA team the Heat; [Crowded womb member] for [QU]AD; [Quinsy symptom] for ABSCESS; and [City once known as Lugdunum] for L[YO]NS. Definitely a well-crafted crossword, fellas!

One advantage the weekly indie puzzles have is the ease of timeliness—the lead times appear to be much shorter than most of the daily crosswords, so fresher fill and more current references can pop up. To wit: In Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle ("Town Wot?") has PRICE clued as [Drew Carey figure]—Drew having recently taken over as the host of The Price Is Right; SAM is [Brownback who withdrew from the 2008 election]. Other recent indie crosswords have included YouTube sensations DON'T TASE ME BRO and TAY ZONDAY—now, if you included one of those entries in a puzzle for Will Shortz, the phrase may well have fallen into the pit of obscurity by the time the puzzle is published—but for now, they're golden. I do enjoy the super-contemporary bits that this post-Maleska, post-Shortz breed of puzzles offers. This week's Jonesin' combines geography (American city names) with palindrome action. There's a RENO LONER, FARGO GRAF, MESA KASEM, and TULSA SLUT. The fill talks, with "I RULE" and "NO DUH" and "UH-UH." Pop culture gets the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' SEWER home, "Bop GUN" (a Parliament song I don't know), and Idol punchline, "SHE Bangs." I also like the SEA SLUG, NUEVO Latino cuisine, and learning that an INCH is [1/63,360th of a mile].


The 11/16 Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, Rich Silvestri's "Grade Inflation," is a fun one, and made easier by the inclusion of previous letter-grade themes in this publication. Here, each theme entry moves up one grade: a full professor becomes a DULL PROFESSOR, drag racing becomes CRAG RACING, car pooling is BAR POOLING, and bone porcelain (more commonly called bone china) is A-ONE PORCELAIN.

Merle Baker's LA Times puzzle drops an R from each of six theme phrases, yielding things like PEP SCHOOL and DIVE-IN MOVIES. Took seemingly forever to notice what was happening in the theme entries!

The theme in Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Western Wordplay," involves four flagrant puns that work Western words into existing phrases. Seattle Slew become SADDLE SLEW, and a lhasa apso becomes a LASSO APSO. Ouch. Puns too painful. Cannot bear it.

Moving to the 21x21 size, Larry Shearer's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Symbols of Success," translates six corporate or brand names into special characters. Across Lite can't handle all of them, but I'm grateful to Lloyd Mazer for finding a solution to that problem (and for tirelessly converting each week's WSJ crossword for our free amusement). A star (* or ★ in the newspaper?) is a TABLOID MAGAZINE. Cross (†?) is a brand of FOUNTAIN PENS. Omega (Ω) makes WRISTWATCHES. Equal (=) is a SUGAR SUBSTITUTE. Diamond (♦) sells CHOPPED WALNUTS. And # is a brand of TELEVISION SETS. But what on earth does # stand for? Pound TVs? Octothorpe TVs? Ah! Sharp TVs. Got it. Great theme! (Those manufacturers should be sure to send Larry Shearer and editor Mike Shenk some free pens and televisions in exchange for the plugs.)