February 27, 2008

Thursday, 2/28

NYT 4:23
NYS 3:53
LAT 3:32
CS 3:20

One more day before the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament! I'll see many of you there, and the others, I'll see you here on the internet. If you won't be in Brooklyn this weekend, I strongly encourage you to try the online competition or the solve-at-home (on paper) option. If you're feeling shy about revealing your speed or lack thereof, you can choose a "player name" for the online version, and your results on the at-home paper version aren't presented publicly. Either method will give you a sense of how you might rate at the actual tournament, and if you're pleased with your out-of-Brooklyn performance, perhaps you'll be emboldened to attend the ACPT next year.

The New York Times crossword by Matt Ginsberg has five long Across answers in the theme, plus two short Acrosses and also four short Downs in the corners. Each is clued with a pair of opposite meanings; e.g., [Add to or remove from] for TRIM, as in trimming a Christmas tree vs. trimming the hedge, and the two SANCTION meanings, [Approve or penalize]. Something can WEAR well or WEAR away. I LEFT home and they were LEFT behind. The ORIGINAL old architecture could be replaced by something really ORIGINAL. I have RESERVATIONs about the dinner RESERVATION. TRIP, TRANSPARENT, RAVEL, and the phrases GO OFF and NOTHING IS BETTER round out the theme. (Seventy-five theme squares = a boatload.) That doesn't leave much space for fancy fill, but a MINIDRESS and the BIG APPLE shine. The legal term GRAVAMEN, [Grounds for a lawsuit], is something that came from the crossings for me, as is ERICA, [Dr. ___ Hahn of "Grey's Anatomy"]. I don't watch that show, but Wikipedia tells me she's called Dr. McHardcore. There was one square I almost filled in without reading the clues—the crossing between THE* and H*CK. THEE and HECK, right? No: THEO Kojak and a horse's HOCK ([Equine ankle]. Definitely a practice that will stand you in good stead at the tournament, filling in a square only after you read at least one of the corresponding clues!

Karen Tracey's New York Sun "Themeless Thursday" crossword was a barrel of monkeys. (That's a good thing, right? Lotsa fun?) The clues weren't tough and twisty enough to delight me, but the fill was ten kinds of fun. The Belgian cycling legend with the bestest name ever, EDDY MERCKX, makes his crossword debut. (His consonants are absolutely delicious. And a few columns over, MERC puts in an appearance.) Actor JOHN CUSACK, ["Martian Child" star] (that's a new movie), is the same age as me and appeared in some of my favorite '80s movies. There's a BEER CHASER ([Boilermaker part]) astride a BLANK STARE. SANTA ANITA, the racetrack with the adjacent A's in the middle, hasn't had its full name in a Cruciverb-indexed crossword since 1998. ALIEN RACES in Star Wars cross gymnastics UNEVEN BARS. L. FRANK BAUM crosses ANACONDA, pop-culturally clued as [Movie with the tagline "It will take your breath away"]. RAMONE is clued as [Drummer Marky]; I knew only Dee Dee and Joey's names. Seinfeld's George COSTANZA, [Sitcom employee of Steinbrenner], was a gimme, as was the IMPALA as a [Model for many police cruisers]. The Scottish word SKIRL, [Play the bagpipes], looks cool in the grid, and [McFlurry flavor at McDonald's] is a great clue for OREO. And did you know that BOSE is a [Company founded by and named after an MIT professor of engineering]? Perhaps this puzzle is anathema to those of you driven mad by a surfeit of names in your crossword, but I loved it.

Be on the lookout for an especially splashy Sun puzzle on Friday. Peter Gordon likes to give ACPT attendees something to talk about.


I wasn't quite seeing the theme in Donna Levin's LA Times crossword before I reached the explanatory entry at 71-Across, MASH. Yes, HAWKEYE STATE, MARGARET MEAD, B.J. AND THE BEAR, and RADAR ANTENNA all begin with M*A*S*H characters (Margaret Houlihan, of course, is Hot Lips). Plenty of unusual, non-Monday sorts of fill, too—QUAHOG, YUM-YUM, BRAHMA, SONIA clued as the sister of SONIC the Hedgehog (in video games).

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "A-Spire to Greatness," starts its theme entries with four TOWER types: IVORY, CONTROL, WATER, and CLOCK. No radio tower, but radio's in CLOCK RADIO (the other theme entries don't have second towers). 6-Down is [Perot's 1996 running mate]. I remembered Admiral Stockdale ("Who am i?") from four years earlier, but Pat CHOATE? I have no recollection of this guy.