January 01, 2008

Wednesday, 1/2

Onion 5:51
Tausig 5:45
NYS 4:45
LAT 3:50
NYT 3:45

Here's a little word game for you: There is a trio of common words—6, 7, and 8 letters in length—in which the 6-letter word also serves as the first 6 letters of the longer words. Hint: People with less vocabulary savvy than you often use two or more of these words interchangeably, but they oughtn't do that.

Patrick Blindauer's New York Times puzzle takes things a step beyond crosswordland, as is Patrick's wont. In this one, the central entry reads CONNECT THE O'S, and the clue instructs us to do that with four straight lines. CLARINET / RELATIVE is clued as a [hint to this puzzle's secret]. If you're like me, you gazed at this resulting layout:

and wondered what the hell kind of musical instrument that was a symbol for. I even Googled clarinet relative, since only the bassoon and flute came to mind. Eventually it hit me: an oboe sounds like an "O bow," and that's what the thingamabob in the grid is, an O bowtie. The oboe is likely the most commonly used musical instrument in crossword grids, so it's a sweet twist to repurpose it for a higher use than Modern High Crosswordese. (If you missed the recent puzzle where the EBRO River was repurposed in a splashy manner, Rex and I will give the details in our first annual American Crossword Critics Association honors on Friday. Constructors, feel free to don your gowns and tuxedos on Friday; if you don't win, you can still enjoy the glamorous imaginary parties after the virtual award presentation.) The fill in Patrick's puzzle didn't stand out as clunky or forced, though the mandatory placement of the letter O in those 22 squares and nowhere else certainly constrained the filling process. Now, you might argue that ATLI, [Mythical king of the Huns], is a crappy crosswordese answer, but I like it because Tyler Hinman and I named our pub trivia team Atli one week. Favorite clue: [Souvenir from a bad trip?] for ABRASION.

The New York Sun puzzle is by Bob Klahn. Be not afraid! It is not so beastly at all. In "Piece by Piece," there are six short (8 to 10 letters) theme answers, each of which has two words or is a compound word—and each half of a theme entry fits the "___ piece" template. For example, TIME PERIOD feeds into timepiece and period piece, so there are 12 different "___ piece" answers inherent in the theme. Favorite clue: [Country with an upside-down Polish flag] for INDONESIA. I thought the Polish flag had a red eagle on it, so this seemed highly unlikely, but whaddaya know? Poland's got white on top, red on the bottom, and Indonesia's the opposite (and the Isle of Man has three legs radiating out from a central point!). Favorite fill: DEM BUMS, a.k.a. the Brooklyn Dodgers. ABIE is clued with reference to the old comic strip, "Abie the Agent," which was dreadfully obscure to me in last Thursday's NYT crossword but now? It's old hat.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Congestion Procession," says to me, "I hab a code." The theme entries are spoken by someone so congested, the M sound can't get through the nose and sounds like a B. Thus, maybe someday becomes BABY SUB DAY (an [Occasion for mini hoagies?]), and "Show me the money" mutates into SHOW BEA THE BUNNY. Answers that fail the stodgy Sunday morning breakfast test: [Places that might have troughs] are MEN'S ROOMS, [Big name in feminine hygiene] is KOTEX, and a [Johnson] is a WANG. Answers that were beyond my ken: the Southern rapper BUN B, that it was ANNIE who sang "Chewing Gum," that T-BIRD is a cheap fortified wine. Most appalling thing I learned: The New York Post headline upon IKE Turner's death was "Ike 'Beats' Tina to Death." Wow, the post is sleazy. Domestic violence double entendres fail the ha-ha test.

I meant to do the Tausig and Onion crosswords Tuesday morning, but I was busy all day and moved them to the Wednesday post. Am too sleepy to the second one—overtired is not the default status one wishes to have when facing a Byron Walden crossword!


Byron Walden ought to write a political rap including the rhymes in his Onion A.V. Club crossword. The mainline candidates named John (Edwards and McCain) are charged with doing the dirty work and attacking their debate opponents via quasi-violent words that rhyme with the other candidates' first names (e.g., PILLORY CLINTON, TWIT ROMNEY). Aw, how come MENACE KUCINICH didn't make the cut? Oh, fine. I suppose including 94 theme squares in a 15x16 asymmetrical grid is plenty, and I can't complain that there are four attacks on Republicans and just three attacks on Democrats. Unusual fill included the Indiana ski area PAOLI Peaks—I never knew Indiana had skiing (it's not far from Louisville, apparently)—crossing internet slang PHAIL. AFRIC is an old-fashioned word for African, or [From south of the Mediterranean]. LOTL is short for Land of the Lost, a show I watched as a kid (though the only thing I remember is Chaka, as seen here). And then there's SMUSH ([Pack together]) crossing ARM FARTS ([Music from the pits?]. Now, where I come from, those are strictly called "armpit farts," but not everyone calls 'em that. (Also? My niece can make neck farts with her chin. She can also stick her tongue in her nose. She's very talented!)

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle goes entomological in its puns. I felt mighty clever when with just the final L, I filled in MISS THE BOLL at 59-Across, but alas, the boll is the cotton and not the bug that infests it, and the answer was SEE NO WEEVIL. I rather liked this buggy theme. (A dear friend mentioned the other day telling a colleague that she liked etymology. "Bugs?" he asked. Auugh.) I enjoyed David Bowie's "LET'S DANCE," [Dirty dish?] for RICE (as in dirty rice—holy cow, it's "dirty" because it's darkened by being cooked with chicken liver? Eww.), the word DODGY (though [Hard to pin down] makes it sound elusive rather than unsavory), and the Aussie EMU (my uncle just came back from a trip to Australia and gave my son some coins, including one with an emu—I prefer the darling echidna and the platypus).

The CrosSynergy puzzle clues ETH as [Biblical verb ending]. As Douglas Bass pointed out to me, "While these words [thy, thee, thou, shalt, etc.] did appear in the King James Version, there's nothing intrinsically Biblical about them. They're just the way they were translated at the time. Modern Bible translations (like the New International Version, f'rinstance) use the language that one person in 2007 would use in talking to another. I don't like the association of Biblical with archaic." I don't mind associating Biblical with archaic, but when archaic language is naught but archaic language, it would be good to label it as such. Why evoke the Bible when it's really 1600s English language that's involved? Including the Bible in the clue also serves to marginalize those solvers who don't identify themselves as Christians. I mean, if the clue's about a specifically Biblical character or story, that's one thing, but plain ol' English language from four centuries ago? Why bring the Bible into it?

Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword is not infested with egg sacs, but it's got SAKS FIFTH AVENUE, German Jewish poet and playwright NELLY SACHS, Kenny G's SOPRANO SAX, and SACKS OF POTATOES.