Brad Wilber's New York Times puzzle makes me glad my college "History of Modern India" class took a field trip to see A Passage to India. The first letter of the [Character on trial in "A Passage to India"] crosses a foreign currency, [100 centimes, in Haiti]. At first I had MR AZIZ, but it needed to be DR AZIZ crossing the GOURDE (hey, GOURME looks equally plausible if you blank out knowledge of lesser-known currencies). Plenty of other tough stuff here, too, and some phrases that didn't ring any bells at all. For example, [Keen of vision] is LYNX-EYED? Sure enough, it's right there in the dictionary, but I don't think I've encountered the phrase before. ANGEL PIE is a [Lemony meringue concoction]? Never heard of it (here's a recipe). What's this GRAND CANAL ([Its banks are lined with nearly 200 palaces]? Ah, the Grand Canal of Venice. ["Giuliani: Nasty Man" author] means ED KOCH? The book came out in 1999, so there's a Giuliani combover on the cover. TESTACY is a word ([Willful state?])? It means "the condition of being testate. COLEUS plants ([Mint-family plants with bright-colored leaves and blue flowers]) have blue flowers? I knew about the multicolored leaves, but not the flowers. There's a SHIH ["___ Ching" (classic book of Chinese poetry)]? Never heard of that, either. NEI means ["In the," in Italy]? And there's a French phrase, "ici ET LA," meaning "here and there"?
Clues and answers I liked: [Presidents Adams, Fillmore, and Taft] were UNITARIANS. A [Rolls roller] is a TYRE; I like this because a British cryptic I'm working on this week used "American band" to mean TIRE. FELICITOUS, CRAZY HORSE, OXYGEN BARS, and IPOD NANO are the more show-offy entries. ORANGEY is clued as [Like a bad spray-on tan]—the Go Fug Yourself blog illustrates what they call tanorexia here. I love BUBBLER being clued as [Drinking fountain]; this is one of those insane regionalisms that is mostly heard in Wisconsin these days. ANACIN gets into the action: [Its ads once showed hammers inside the head]. (Alas, I could not find a video showing that—but here's another retro Anacin commercial.) How do you feel about ONE OR TWO as an entry ([Not many])? I'm torn. I think I like it, but I could be mistaken. I don't like BLATS ([Makes a raucous noise]), not because the cluing is off or the word's illegitimate but simply because it's a hideous word. Maybe partly because Blatta and Blattella are cockroach genera.
Randall Hartman's got a cute CrosSynergy puzzle today—"Spreading the Gospel in Hollywood" includes four actors named MATTHEW (PERRY), MARK (HAMILL), LUKE (WILSON), and JOHN (TRAVOLTA).
The day's other themeless puzzles didn't do much for me. Bob Peoples' LA Times puzzle crossed an old college coach whose name I forgot with a phrase I've never heard—[Hall of Fame coach Hank of Oklahoma State] is Hank IBA (I'm more familiar with Mike Gundy, the ranting "I'm a man! I'm 40!" OSU coach who's a YouTube hit). That B fills in ON THE BEAM, or [Going along well]. Also from the land of sports, golfers use the term HOT PUTTER? A clue like [One might help you win, in golf slang] doesn't help me one bit. In the mini-theme, NASCAR DAD ([Working-class parent]) is opposite ALPHA MOMS ([High-achieving parent]), and again, the latter isn't a phrase I'm familiar with. It also sounds like class war in the crossword. [20th century conductor ___ Mata] is EDUARDO...hmm, nope, don't recognize that name, either. At least I've seen OTOMI ([Mexican language or people]) in a couple previous crosswords. I did like how [Looking over one's shoulder, maybe] evokes nervousness rather than driving IN REVERSE, and the mislead of [Gut feeling] for AGITA (anyone thinking HUNCH rather than heartburn?).
Merle Baker's Newsday Saturday Stumper was also a fairly dry venture. The triple stack of 15-letter answers in the middle were slow to reveal themselves to me. ABLE TO TAKE A JOKE, TOLD IN OPEN COURT, and CRYSTAL DETECTOR didn't resonate for me as interesting or zippy phrases. One of the Down answers, ON A DOWNER, sounds like more of an adverbial phrase to me, but here, it's clued with the adjective, [Gloomy]. Does that sound right to you? I can't hear it being used that way. "The team's season ended on a downer," yes; "I am on a downer," no. Explanation, anyone? New botanical term I learned: STOLONS are [Botanist's runners]. [Big brother player] hints vaguely at Orwell, but the answer's TONY DOW, who played Beaver Cleaver's big brother. I like the vagueness of [Mainers, e.g.] for YANKEES.
November 16, 2007