January 11, 2008

Saturday, 1/12

LAT 6:46
Newsday 5:05
NYT 4:56
CS 2:54

NYT second Sunday: Diagramless 12:53

My favorite entries in Frederick Healy's New York Times puzzle are the ones with unexpected letter combinations. I didn't know there was a MT. POCONO ([Touristy resort borough SE of Scranton, Pa.]) out there in the Poconos region, but I suppose it shouldn't be surprising. [Much unscripted fare] is REALITY TV; if you like TV but not reality TV, this writers' strike may be burdensome to you. (May I recommend the 30 Rock Season One DVD set?) There's also the M.D. DEGREE, or [Acquisition before becoming a resident]; a Chrysler K-CAR, or [Plymouth Reliant, for one]; and a LT. GOV. (pronounced "lite gov" in some parts), or [State second: Abbr.] Okay, K-CAR wasn't a fave, but it fits the odd-letter-combos category.

Other entries I liked: KICK-START to [Energize] something. ROAD RAGE, clued with the noun-not-a-verb phrase [Fits behind the wheel?]. In my teen years, I loved the [1984 Cyndi Lauper hit] "SHE BOP," which turned out to be a song about masturbation, and yet it's not a very good song at all—I just watched the video on YouTube and it pained me. A better choice: singer PEABO Bryson duetting with Roberta Flack here, also in the '80s (Cyndi Lauper's other hits are better—here's "Time After Time"). Cheesiness rules, with SPEEDOS, clued as [Small trunks], across from ROLLERBALL, the [Title sport in a 1975 James Caan film]. For more '70s fun, we get the combination of gymnast NADIA Comaneci, the [Big name at the 1976 Olympics], and the PERFECT TEN she was the first to attain. E-FILE isn't fancy, but it's one of the few E-___ answers that has spoken-English credibility (vs. things like E-CASH, E-NOTE, E-MAG). [Designer Saab] is ELIE—hey! People tell plenty of e-lies online.

Favorite clues: [Basketmaker?] for a SCORER in basketball; [Record holder] for both REGISTRAR and HIFI (and not for, say, CHAMPION or FASTEST]; [Curling setting] for SALON (I thought I was going to learn Canadian sports terminology, but no); [House style], plain and simple, for CAPE COD;

I don't know about present-tense STRAP for [Leave in difficulty]; you can be strapped, but does anyone or anything ever strap you? And RAISIN PIE—here's a recipe, but who wants to eat this [Sultana-stuffed treat]? I'll pass. I did not know [Star Steeler Stautner], ERNIE, nor that Leon EDEL was the [Writer of a five-volume Henry James biography]. And there's a French [River at Rennes] called ILLE? I don't recall this one. With letters like those, I suspect it will bubble up again in a future crossword.


This weekend's "second Sunday" puzzle in the NYT is a diagramless crossword by Byron Walden. After the last diagramless, I wrote a how-to primer about solving this kind of puzzle and said that I usually use the solving hint that gives away the location of 1-Across's starting square. Tyler Hinman was so disappointed in me after that confession, I decided to try this one sans hint. Hey! This wasn't bad at all. I mean, yeah, it took more than twice as long as the Saturday NYT, but it was easy to figure out where to place the answers. (The giveaway was in the third row, where I had 4- and 8-letter entries with a clue in between them that had to be a 3-letter word, which pushed those other two answers to the edges of the grid. The nine starred entries (note: the asterisk in 22-Across belongs to 23-Across) contain a total of 19 words, each of which can precede the word CALL. (E.g., COLD DUCK gives you cold call and a duck call.) Did you know there were at least 19 "___ call" phrases? There are more, but they don't necessarily bundle themselves into phrases. You know, "cattle call" and "bad call" work, but nobody says "bad cattle." Or "booty conference," for that matter. I didn't know tennis umpires said LET FIRST SERVICE (that's my lack of tennis savvy), and SICK BIRD seems not quite "in the language," but JUNK MAIL, GOODWILL, HARD ROLL, and HOUSECAT are golden.

Dan Stark's Newsday Saturday Stumper is notable for its dearth of multi-word entries. I see IN BED and...71 single-word entries. I suppose there may well be a contingent of solvers who prefer straight-up words to the phrases that have become more popular of late, especially in themeless puzzles, but I am quite fond of the phrasal action. As far as single-word entries go, though, POLTERGEIST is great. Favorite clue (and one that befuddled me for far too long): [Best replacement] for STARR. Thinking only of Brenda Starr and Bart Starr, it made no sense—until eventually the early Beatle Pete Best and his replacement, Ringo STARR, dawned on me. The biggest disappointment was when my first guess for [They may go down the tubes] proved to be wrong. C'mon, with *O****ASTES, how could that not be SOLID WASTES? I know it passes no breakfast, lunch, or dinner test for crossword suitability, but solid wastes do go down tubes, whereas TOOTHPASTES generally get squeezed out of tubes.

Robert Wolfe's LA Times crossword was a little tougher than the other themeless puzzles of the day...or solving later in the evening dims my brain's wattage. The very last clue I figured out—with the help of playing the alphabet game, mentally scrolling through the alphabet trying to fill in one last square—was [It's weighed by the pound], with an excellent misdirection. This one's not about measuring in pounds; rather, it's a passive-voice construction about something that the pound weighs—a STRAY animal. Other favorite clues: [Cruise, often] for MALE LEAD and [Not a big hit] for TAP. I like two of the 15-letter entries, TAKING EXCEPTION and TIGHTEN ONE'S BELT, but "THAT'S NOT CORRECT" doesn't quite feel like a stand-alone crossword-suitable phrase to me.

Saturday-morning update:

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle has a quip theme (riddle and answer), but the crossings included so many easy clues and gimmes, there was no slogging through the grid. I believe I've heard the riddle before, too: WHAT'S WORSE / THAN RAINING / CATS AND DOGS? Why, HAILING CABS, of course. (Rim shot.) Favorite entry: THE ANIMALS. I can't say I'm familiar with any of their '60s music, but the '82 reissue of "House of the Rising Sun" was on radio and MTV rotation when I was at the teenage peak of my pop music immersion.