A few days ago, reader Jordan asked why I don't blog about the USA Today crossword. It's not just the lack of an Across Lite option for that crossword. Tyler Hinman explains in depth here.
(Tyler also explores the flaws in the gameplay of Merv Griffin's Crosswords and suggests a few tactical improvements.)
My mojo was been stolen. My desktop computer (aka Home of All Things Crosswordy) was refusing to connect to the internet properly, so I was using my laptop instead this weekend. But you know what? Working a Sunday puzzle on a 13" screen is a lot different from working it on a widescreen Apple Cinema display. I did the NYT crossword in Across Lite to avoid feeling hemmed in in the applet, but everything's all out of whack. (Sigh.) Or maybe the New York Times puzzle by Henry Hook was just clued hard? Let's take a look at the applet. No, a couple people were five minutes faster than me. I'm back on the big machine now, where I hope to reclaim my mojo when I do the other Sunday puzzles.
The theme in Hook's "Political Leaders" puzzle is a little oblique. The clue for 19-Across reads, [With 105-Across, what the answer to each starred clue starts with]. Those two answers give us SCRAMBLED / PRESIDENT, but I missed the end of the clue, so the anagrams hid from me until after I finished the puzzle. The beginning of each of 10 theme entries is an anagrammed U.S. president, but they can be part of one word (e.g., Bush at the beginning of HUSBAND-TO-BE) or part of two words (Hayes in SAY HEY KID)—or, in one case, part of three words (Harrison in RAIN OR SHINE). Monroe is one ONE MORE TIME; Adams, DAMASCUS STEEL; Taft, FATTED CALF; Carter, TERRA COTTA; Pierce, PRICE/EARNINGS; Wilson, SLOWING DOWN; and Taylor, ROYALTIES. You didn't need to figure any of that out to finish the puzzle, of course—although it might speed the process up for an anagram-savvy solver. There's a whole lotta theme packed into this grid, though, isn't there?
I had a passel of favorite clues and answers. [Passing remark?] is "'SCUSE ME" as you squeeze past someone. [Home of Faa'a International Airport] for TAHITI? That gave me my RDA of geography factoids. [Butlers and maids] means the HELP; did you see the HBO movie, Bernard and Doris, about heiress Doris Duke and her butler Bernard? (Soapy, but in a good way.) [Supermarket lines?] means a UPC CODE (and yes, I know the C stands for code; it's still an in-the-language phrase.) [Split] pulls double duty for the consecutive CLOVEN and FORKED. The RED HEN is the ["Not I!" hearer]; there's a great old short cartoon of that tale I should scour YouTube for. KEISTERS are indeed [Rears], though I was looking for a verb here. Another body part is a HAIR CELL, [Sensory receptor in the ear]; you have a boatload of these if you're lucky. (Also in the sensory category: RETINAE are [Rod holders] in the eye.)
Toughest answers: I've seen VENIRE before ([Jury pool]), but it's the sort of word I tend to forget. A couple unfamiliar names struck me: BOUTON is the last name of [Jim who wrote "Ball Four"; [Schumacher of auto racing] is RALF; HENRY is [___ Fleming, central character in "The Red Badge of Courage"]. Then there's COIGN [___ of vantage (good position for viewing)]. I didn't know that ATTILA was an opera, a [Titular Verdi role]. DEMIT can mean [Relinquish]. Her sister Erato gets so much more play in crosswords, but it's good to dredge EUTERPE, the [Muse of music], out of the memory banks from time to time.
(Google experiment: If I add [Violinist Mischa] at 1 p.m., along with the answer, AUER, how long will it take Google to send someone here?)
Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer crossword this week is a rerun as he works on a tournament puzzle, says the Across Lite Notepad. So if you don't do Merl Reagle's puzzle each week and you're getting ready for the ACPT, you'd better start practicing! The theme entries in "I'm Gonna Rearrange Your Face!" are phrases that include the wrong facial feature. After working a long night towing Santa's sleigh, shouldn't he be called RUDOLPH THE / RED-EYED REINDEER? Sure. And Jeanie with the light brown hair gets too much testosterone and becomes JEANIE WITH THE LIGHT BROWN GOATEE. Fun theme—standard playful Merl.
Robert Wolfe's Washington Post puzzle, "Pronouns-ments," has an interesting theme—eight phrases that include a pronoun (it, which, our, I, what, none, we, and you) swapped out for a homophone (as in SECOND TO NUN and the non-urinary THE ROYAL WEE). I liked this puzzle, but now that my internet connection's working just fine, I'm interfering with myself by using the little wireless keyboard with its wee arrow keys, and the cursor keeps running off in the wrong direction. So I think this crossword was a bit easier than the comparative solving times suggest.
I should've paid attention to the title of Arlan and Linda Bushman's syndicated LA Times crossword, "McPuzzle," earlier on. It was only after meandering through the grid for a bit that I realized each theme entry was an M___ C___ phrase, such as MEXICO CITY, MOLOTOV COCKTAIL, and MIDNIGHT COWBOY. Not an especially aggressive theme, but the puzzle's got a lot of nice fill (including theme entries)—GOTTA GO, EMMA PEEL, a TIE GAME, a creepy FOOTSTEP, BOXED IN.
Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's online Boston Globe puzzle, "Candyland," contains a hodgepodge of candy-related puns. TRUFFLE EXPENSES instead of travel expenses, for example, and DROMEDARY CARAMEL for camel. I couldn't quite land on this particular pun wavelength, except for PERILS OF PRALINE (thanks, Baskin Robbins ice cream!). A-words you should know for crosswords include AROAR ([Wildly cheering]) and ALOFT ([In the sky]); A TRIFLE ([Slightly]) appears to be two words. (ANEAR, ABEAM, and ASTERN are other A-words you're likely to see in crosswords.)
Moving to themeless territory, Rich Norris provided this week's CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge." The fill is rather Scrabblicious, with three Zs, a bunch of Ks (nine answers end with K!), and a Q. DAFFY DUCK and BIZARRO come from cartoon/comics land. SECONDHAND SMOKE is a [Pub hazard, in some places]—fortunately not in Illinois! You know how you can tell if you've done too many crosswords in your time? My second answer in the grid was the UBANGI River. If you encounter the set of a BAREBACK (62-A) POLAR BEAR (33-D) SKIN FLICK (34-D), DON'T MOVE (37-D). At least that's what PEARY (50-D) told me. One of the BLUENOSES (2-D) who SCRAMS (9-A) just ends up QUENCHing (16-A) the bears' thirst for blood.
February 16, 2008