December 28, 2007

Saturday, 12/29

NYT 7:57 (Note: solution code for Across Lite file is 1247, not 1914)
Newsday 6:25
LAT 5:54
CS 3:55

Ah, I love a Saturday New York Times crossword that's good and gnarly, extracts half-remembered words from the misty water-colored corners of my mind, teaches me new words, and engages the humor mechanism. Bob Klahn's 66-word crossword wins on all four counts. We'll take this one in list form.

Pop culture! "AIN'T [Nobody" (1983 Chaka Khan hit)] was a gimme. Here's a concert video of the song, notable for the magnificence of Chaka Khan's costume. TOY STORY, [Pixar's first feature-length film], was another gimme. [Banks of note] is TYRA Banks. Let's put fusty curmudgeon ANDY ROONEY in this category, too; he is the ["Common Nonsense" author, 2002].

Vice presidents! ADVANCE MEN is a great entry; advance team, as used here in Dick Cheney's tour demands, is a good gender-neutral alternative. [Public appearance preparers] is a completely straightforward clue. (Yes, Bob Klahn puzzles can include those, too.) Speaking of Cheney, did you know [McKinley's first vice president] was named HOBART? I sure didn't. Ulysses S. Grant wasn't vice president before he became our EIGHTEENTH president.

Science! A DACTYL is a [Finger or toe]. The root appears in words for conditions like polydactyly and syndactyly. In poetic meter, a dactyl is "a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables." [Margay cousins] are big cats, a.k.a. OCELOTS. The [Mountain sheep] called ARGALI—the word rang a bell, softly. I've seen it before, but it took a while to fill in half the letters. One of those "I'll know it when I see it" words that I couldn't spit out independently. [Cupule's contents] means an ACORN; a cupule, as the name suggests, is a little cup-shaped structure, presumably the acorn's cap.

Geography! [Spanish city that gave sherry its name is often spelled Jerez, but here it's XERES. It can go either way, but both ways are Scrabbly. [You may be lost in the middle of it] is also quasi-geographic: NOWHERE.

Art and literature! OPERA SERIA is the serious [old form of Italian musical drama]; opera buffa is the comic alternative. MINA Harker is the Dracula heroine.

Things I didn't exactly know: GOLCONDA is clued as [Rich mine or other source of great wealth. Golkonda or Golconda is a ruined city in India famed for its diamond mines, which yielded the Hope diamond. An [Unexpected turn of events, as in a literary work] is PERIPETEIA; the Wikipedia entry has a decent description. A BRASSARD is a [Uniform armband]; it's etymologically related to the French bras, meaning arm. The [Scolding wife: Var.] is XANTIPPE; I haven't seen that variant, just the more familiar Xanthippe—she was married to Socrates and is said to have out-argued him. I've heard of ELI in the Bible, but [Father of Hophni and Phinehas, in the Bible]? Not ringing a bell at all.

Multiple meanings! [Where to pick up dates?] relies on the mislead—it's not a singles bar, it's PALMS, as in the trees dates grow on. [Private group] is the ARMY, with privates. [Shell, e.g.] is a BOAT. [You can make light of it] refers to a LANTERN, not joking. [Squire] is the verb ESCORT. [Draft picks] are BEERS, not just athletes. [Scoring units] aren't just points in a game, but musical NOTES. [One running for work?] is a BOOTLEGGER in the sense of "run" meaning smuggle (transitive verb, definition 14a). [Handle incorrectly?] means MISTITLE; I got this, but I think handle = name only in a noun sense, not as a verb. [Tear up] should be pronounced like teardrops, not "tear you a new one"—it's the verb MIST.

And now, for other miscellaneous stuff. [Modesty preserver, in some films]—I was thinking of the sheet hanging between Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, but it's a BUBBLE BATH. I like this clue, and the way that the bubbles in a movie bubble bath always stay so thick and never have embarrassing gaps. In the opposite corner of the grid, I was still thinking of that movie when I encountered [See-through sheets], but that one's talking about PLATE GLASS.

I like [Sparkling] as a could-go-in-any-direction clue for WITTY. And WINTERTIDE is a lovely word; it's an old word meaning winter time, my big dictionaries tell me. I see no indication at all that it's an [End-of-year festival] (other than in the Shenandoah Valley), but it ought to be. I would like to celebrate wintertide. Maybe as part of Festivus? [Catawampus] or cattywampus is a regionalism meaning AWRY, and a fun word. OCHLOCRACY is one of those fun vocabulary words meaning [Mob rule]. MOPPET is a [Rug rat] and also a great word. So is [Gasconade], or BRAG.

TOC is clued as [List in a book's front: Abbr.] Now, I've been calling a table of contents a TOC for years and years, and yet TOC shows up only once in the Cruciverb database (with a "tic-toc" sound clue). Are you familiar with the TOC abbrev? Is there a reason it hasn't been showing up in crosswords?


Doug Peterson's Newsday Saturday Stumper is less of a stumper than the Klahn puzzle. Fun fill: MNEMONIC device, VIGORISH from the world of bookies, soothing "THERE, THERE," a KIDNEY BEAN in the soup, LOIS LANE (clued as ["Kiss Me Kate" character], I don't know why), DADDY-O, and flaming CHERRIES JUBILEE. I'm not sure why it took me so long to understand that [Key-lock character] meant an UPPERCASE LETTER. Other clues of note: [Frozen formations] are ice CUBES, not obscure glacier formations. [Sm., med. and lg.] are ADJS, or adjectives, of course. [Percipient] is, I presume, related to "perceive"; it means ALERT. [Stick with a pocket] is a CROSSE, the stick used in lacrosse. Weren't there flux CAPACITORS in Back to the Future? ST LO is clued [Town on the Vire River], but the Vire doesn't seem to flow in crosswords.

Bonus points to Nancy Salomon for including KIKI DEE in her themeless LA Times puzzle. My sister and I loved "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" when we were kids; the coed duet probably kept us from sensing that Elton John was gay for a decade after the song came out, spangled sunglasses be damned.

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "My Mother, the Car," has automotive puns of a dreadful sort. I just heard from a reader who did the 12/21 LA Times puzzle with mineral puns, and couldn't figure out the root phrase behind JUVENILE QUARTZ. I told her I thought it was "juvenile courts," stretching the punctuation further than the the other theme entries. We discussed the liberties that constructors sometimes take with pronunciation, and it's my opinion that those cut down on the enjoyment of the puns. (Pun lovers may disagree.) My correspondent said it was fortunate that those liberties are rare. Well, this puzzle's theme entries have taken all the liberties and left us with no more. Famous women whose first names sorta sound like car makes, if you torture their names—AUDI HEPBURN? RENAULT RUSSO? Ouch. If you find this breed of puns delightful, please tell me.