Aaaarghh! Tony Orbach is a lovely human being, but his Saturday New York Times crossword did not make me happy—one of those collisions of unfamiliar words that shoves me into a tight corner and ENTRAPs ([Bait]) me into asking Google to throw me a lifeline. Oy! That middle section was a nightmare! The [Small, deep-fried pork cube] is a CUCHIFRITO, apparently a Puerto Rican food, and I've never heard of it, not ever. I tried with all my might to make it have a double R (like churro), but alas, no. That answer, 8-Down, crossed 26-Across, [Golden fish stocked in ornamental ponds], or ORFE. Another word I didn't know! Not at all! Below ORFE is PORNO, but the clue, [Dirt] (how Puritan!), wasn't convincingly pointing towards PORNO there. And that damned ["Rugrats" baby], DIL—I tend to forget that name, and this time tried DEL, further mangling the pork cubes. (Googling cucherrito will get you nowhere.) Running alongside CUCHIFRITO is ETHYLENE, clued as [C2H4], and that section was so mangled I tried making that ETHYLANE or ETHYLINE (I was desperate!) My other dastardly trouble spot was where [Apply messily] meets [Anti-ship missile that skims waves at nearly the speed of sound]. I put in SLAP ON instead of the less natural SLOP ON, though I should've recognized that EXOCET would be right and EXACET was wrong. Oy! (I suspect that many people will be calling for Tony and Will Shortz to be deep-fried in an ornamental pond.) (And maybe I shouldn't have had all that wine this evening.)
There were a few other tough words lurking in the grid, but none so baffling as those above. The [Lab tube] is a BURETTE, and wait, do I remember that from chemistry class, or just the pipette? I can't recall. [Touch-related] is TACTUAL and not the more common TACTILE (which I tried to include, further slowing me down). The [Hindu sage] is a RISHI (as in maharishi, I presume), but SWAMI called out to me first.
"Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?" The play was finely crafted and entertaining. Highlights pour moi: VAMOOSE ([Amscray]) crossing NO CHEESE ([Big Mac request]—anyone else go for NO ONIONS?); a PASSEL ([Slew]) crossing a CHEATER ([One using a crib]); [Ready to be put to bed] for EDITED (publishing! and it crosses STETTING!); the baseballish "DROVE IN a run"; and the GABFEST of The View on which everyone GETS MAD ([Bristles]). Other favorite clues: [Post boxes?] for CEREALS; [Piece of silver, say] for UTENSIL; [A lot of foreign intelligence intercepts] for CHATTER; [Many-sided problems] for HYDRAS; [Patron of Paris] for GENEVIEVE (doesn't she look nice in the middle of the grid?); [Home to Mount Chimborazo] for ECUADOR (a geography clue I don't know at all!); [Decayed] for MY BRAIN...I mean, MOTH-EATEN; and [Nearest, for Nero] for PROXIMA (I don't know Latin, but that was beautifully gettable].
Cuchifrito! Orfe! Here's a recipe for the former (caution: link plays music). When a few of the steps involve washing the pig ears and really scrubbing the pig stomach and pig tongue, I know that this is not a dish I will ever go near. The orfe is also known as the ide, and it's native to Europe and Asia.
Still bruised from last night's NYT solving misadventures, Merle Baker's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" made me a little grumpy, what with the [Ornamental pine tree] called a MUGHO. MUGHO?!? I'm torn between wishing to never see it again in a crossword and hoping it comes up in a tournament puzzle so I'm rewarded for having learned it today. (Orfe!) I hadn't realized that fanfarea could be a verb, as in FANFARED; I checked a few dictionary sites and see only the noun senses mentioned. I also hadn't realized that [Wow] could be a noun (here, cluing FEAT), but the dictionary says it can. (That's a wow!) Favorite clue/answer combo: [It can count] for NEATNESS. ACPT attendees, if you can't compete on speed and accuracy, you can always shoot for the judges' annual neatness prize!
Frederick Healy's themeless LA Times puzzle has plenty of nifty phrases in the fill. MEASURES UP ([Makes the grade]), COMES CLEAN ([Fesses up]), DR PHIL and AL CAPONE, SORE LOSERS and the AMEN CORNER, PENNY CANDY and SOAP OPERAS. I liked STAY TUNED ([Request not to surf?]), but cluing both IS ON and ON TV with versions of the word "air" seemed a bit much. I liked [Front runner?] for MEDICO—as in one running at the battlefront. [Sweetums] clues POOPSIE, and I've gotta say, if anyone ever calls me POOPSIE, that'll be the last time they do that.
Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Chest Openers," is not about thoracic surgery. Rather, the four theme entries begin with kinds of chests. TREASURE HUNT, treasure chest; COMMUNITY CENTER, community chest; WEDDING ALBUM, wedding chest; okay, fine. But isn't a MEDICINE CABINET basically the exact same thing as a medicine chest? This offered a nice break from the themeless beatings, in any event.
February 15, 2008