January 26, 2008

Sunday, 1/27

NYT 9:25
PI 8:23
LAT 7:28
BG 7:12
WaPo 6:58
CS 4:58

NYT Second Sunday cryptic 10:25—check out Will Johnston's annotated answers that outline how each answer's derived from the clues, step by step

Mike Nothnagel's Sunday New York Times puzzle, "I Need My Space," adds a little breathing ROOM in or at the end of seven phrases. I liked the theme until I got to the sixth theme entry, when my cruciverbal ardor increased—NO RESTROOM FOR THE WICKED would be an awesome [Sign outside a church lavatory?]. I'm guessing that was the seed entry, and all the rest are there to give this bon mot a raison d'etre. (No, there's no reason for using French here, other than that French offers le mot juste.)

Juicy entries include K.T. OSLIN, the [Singer with the #1 country album "80's Ladies"]; THE OMEN, the [1976 horror film whose score won an Oscar]; FLOWN IN, or [Imported by plane]; BORDER TOWN, such as [Laredo or Nuevo Laredo]; IRA GLASS, the [Host of public radio's "This American Life"] (before he moved to New York, my best friend used to see him at the gym and swoon); DEN MOTHER, the [Cubs' protector] in scouting, not the forest; SPAZ, or [Extremely inept person, slangily]; and a slew of short, Scrabbly words like WAX, JERK, ROUX, ZORBA, and JOG. The [Attempt to trick] is a PUT-UP JOB, which isn't a phrase I've heard before—is it old-fashioned slang? Regional? Newfangled? British? My other answers o' mystery include VOSTOK [1, Yuri Gagarin's spacecraft], and BERNICE, [Eccentric friend on "Designing Women"].

I was too busy noticing the fill to note any clues I especially liked, so I'll turn my attention back to the theme. [Beer sources for genteel guests?] are POWDER ROOM KEGS, but if you were genteel, would you want to (a) drink beer from a keg, and (b) visit the john to get said beer? I think not. You might wish to visit a dainty powder room after having a few beers, but the beer should be poured from bottles or a professional-quality tap into a frosted glass suitable for that particular brew. The clue for THE BALL'S IN YOUR COURTROOM, [Reminder to a forgetful judge on bowling night?], makes me wonder whether constructor/judge Vic Fleming likes to bowl, and whether he'd ever leave a bowling ball in his workplace. DAVY JONES' LOCKER ROOM is my other favorite theme entry, because who doesn't like a Monkees reference?

This weekend's Second Sunday puzzle in the Times, a cryptic by Rich Silvestri, might be the best NYT cryptic I remember. The clues tended to rely much less on anagrams, it seemed to me—far more reliance on charades, double meanings, and containers (using the terminology that our Aussie regular commenter, DA or David Astle, uses in his roundup of his favorite cryptic clues at his blog). For example, [They make lace rags] is TATTERS(highlight text with mouse to see hidden words), which means both "people who make lace" and "rags" (double meaning). A charade clue is [Former French island outcast]; EXILE is EX, or "former," plus ILE, French for "island." An example of a container clue is [Rolling pins in center plot]; roll PINS into NSPI and put them inside CORE, or "center," to get CONSPIRE, a verb that means "plot." Silvestri included so many different clue types—just three anagrams (9A, 5D, 20D) and one straight embedded word (LENORE). This puzzle is still worlds easier than the (London) Times cryptics I've been doing of late (and have put aside until post-ACPT), but I liked it a lot.

Speaking of David Astle, he's devoted one post to his favorite "Tee-Hees," oblique or lateral or twisted-thinking clues. Some are British cryptic clues, but "Several hail from the American maestri, such as Ben Tausig, Francis Heaney, Henry Hook and Patrick Blindauer, among others." I haven't savored them yet, but plan to.


I hadn't noticed that the NYT crossword had a supersized 23x23 grid. And still, Stella Daily finished in in 7:04 on the applet. (!)

Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle in Across Lite, "Link Letters," is quite good. The fill has more than a dozen 8- and 9-letter answers in it (e.g., NO-HITTERS, XENOPHON, and EUPHONIUM), and there's not a clunker in the bunch of eight theme entries. Two theme entries intersect in the center square on a Q. The "link letters" are individual letters that stand as a separate word or component in the two halves of each theme entry, as with MR T and T-SQUARE, joined together to be a MR T SQUARE. (Technically, Kmart lacks a space or hyphen, but the K's pronounced like the letter name, so SPECIAL K MART works just as smoothly as the rest.) SHEILA E COLI gets special mention for the breakfast-table violation. KENNY G FORCE, SUZY Q TIPS, MALCOLM X RAYS, and STANDING O HENRY were other favorites of mine. The fill had some gnarly spots, too. [Mercurous chloride] is called CALOMEL? It sounds like a cross between caramel and a Mallomar. Beside that was OPAL, with the obscure clue [Geyserite, for one]. On the other side of CALOMEL is EGGCUPS. If you opted for TEACUPS and blanked on the other two, the Across clues wouldn't be much help.

Pamela Amick Klawitter's Washington Post crossword, "If It Fits, Wear It," suggests nine kinds of occupational garb that could be alternate definitions of existing phrases. An astronomer might don an ASTEROID BELT, a train conductor has a RAILROAD TIE, and a meteorologist's feat could boast WIND SOCKS. We've probably all seen old jokes involving FREUDIAN SLIP as a piece of lingerie, but the other eight theme entries feel fresher. Taken literally, the theme entries would be the most boring assortment ever (HEAT PUMPS and a FINISH COAT?), but I like the apparel twist.

Damien Peterson's syndicated LA Times Sunday puzzle, "Stress Management," chills out with six phrases that might go with a LAID-BACK PERSONALITY, such as RELAXED-FIT JEANS and EASY LISTENING music. The clue that took me the longest to understand was [Canine event, in more ways than one]. DOG-something, but what? And why? Ah, DOG BITE, canine animals and canine teeth (yes, dogs have canines, too).

In his Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Animals House," Merl Reagle commits animal cruelty by pun. Some are real groaners, like changing bygones to pythons in LET PYTHONS BE PYTHONS. I do like the sheer lunacy of MARCH OF THE PANGOLINS (swapping out another animal, penguins). Pangolins are odd-looking scaly mammals; you can see one in the Los Angeles Zoo or a zoo in Taiwan, but no other zoo. The seal's résumé says it PLAYS WELL WITH OTTERS, which I think is the most successful pun in the puzzle.

Today's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle's by Bob Klahn. There was plenty I didn't know, but the crossings generally has easier clues and let me fill things in much faster than in a Klahn NYT themeless. Favorite clues: ["Mark twain" Mississippi measure] means DEPTH, and no, the measure wasn't named after the writer. Rather, the writer chose the measure as his nom de plume. I never knew that! He should've kept the Clemens name—he's a distant, distant cousin of mine. [Athlete more likely to take second than third?] is a base STEALER. The ["Apocalypto" language] in the Mel Gibson movie (I almost typed "Mel Brooks") is YUCATEC. [Come up quickly] is LOOM, but first I opted for ZOOM and then BOOM. [Dirt ball] is the literal CLOD of earth.