Well! It's been too long since the last Byron Walden themeless in the New York Times. Maybe seeing his puzzle in the paper will help make up for Vanderbilt's loss in March Madness tonight. Looking at the NYT applet, it looks like most of the seeded solvers are going down in defeat, failing to whip this puzzle with their customary speed. This is a fairly low-word-count crossword, so you know we're in for something other than the standard fill. This time, it's a few obscure words blended with a slew of unusual (but not obscure) fill, and some ordinary fill jazzed up with tricky cluing.
The splashiest entry is JELLO SHOT, a [Jigger that jiggles?]. I'll have mine with a DIET SODA ([Light mixer]) chaser, please. The NW and SE corners boast quartets of 9-letter answers, such as JELLO SHOT and AQUAPLANE, BURST OPEN, BIKE STAND, and the [MTV reality show] DATE MY MOM. The other two corners have quartets of 8-letter answers stacked up.
The furthest afield answers, for me, were HAPAX, ROXIO, and FERIA. Hapa-who? HAPAX is clued [___ legomenon (word or phrase used only once in a document or corpus. Wikipedia lists some examples, such as nortelrye ("education") appearing just once in Chaucer and Lilith having just one appearance in the Hebrew Bible. (I wasn't at all sure of the X at the end, but the X seemed the most plausible choice for XIA, the [Earliest recorded Chinese dynasty].) Here's the ROXIO homepage, for the [CD-burning software company that bought Napster]. FERIA is both a [Spanish festival] and a Roman "free day" and Catholic term. PERIODIDE looks like it relates to period rather than iodine; the clue, [Salt with the maximum proportion of element #53], didn't exactly point this non-chemist in the proper direction. That [Shrub also known as the Russian olive] was tough, too—OLEASTER shares so many letters with OLEANDER, a plant I've actually heard of. We even had a Russian olive tree in the backyard when I was a teenager, but I never learned another name for it.
The clues I liked best: [Nurses, say] for the verb CARES FOR; [Zebralike] for EQUINE (ha! I got this one quickly); [Like anchors] for the newsy, not nautical, ON CAMERA; [Steps away from], which could be a verb phrase or a description of location, for OPTS OUT OF, which looks bizarre in the grid; [Forced, in a way] for STAGY, not a verb; [Where to go] for COMMODE; [Legendary brothers-in-law] for EARPS (They weren't brothers? Huh. What do you know?) (make that "brothers in law," as in brothers who were lawmen and not one guy married to the other guy's sister); [Saw the light] for WISED UP; [First justice alphabetically in the history of the Supreme Court] for ALITO; [First African-American golfer with 12 P.G.A. tour wins] for Calvin PEETE (I never knew he wasn't white—never saw him because I wasn't following golf at all in his day); and [Neighbor of Ghana] for TOGO (not Chad, not Mali).
Favorite answers: JABBER (which could have been YAMMER equally plausibly); "NO DUH" (which makes me parse NODAT as NO DAT rather than NOD AT); the TEN-DAY WAR for Slovenia's independence; SUPERMINI cars like the [Volkswagen Polo, for one]; roller skate TOE STOPS; a last-second football play AT THE GUN (though "at the buzzer" is used more, I think); and ANTI-FUR. BOY-MAN just looks weird ([One suspended in adolescence]; if you cross it with the ORANG ([Animal from Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"]), do you get some sort of boy-apeman, or an ape boy-man? ANURANS ([Frogs and toads]) is a strange-looking word, too, given that anuria is a lack of pee; Anura is the order of amphibians that includes frogs and toads. (My son encountered a wee frog near the swimming pool yesterday morning—when it rains at night, sometimes frogs sneak into the lanai.)
Merle Baker's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" was pretty tough, too—or maybe it wasn't and I'm just tired from an afternoon in the pool. Favorite clues and fill: SKEDADDLED ([Beat it]); [Like Java in January] for RAINY; [Congratulates, perhaps] for HIGH-FIVES; [Ballpark figure] for ATTENDANCE; [Presses and folds] for KNEADS; [Inclusive term] for ET ALII; [Course with layers] for LASAGNE (my first thought was GEOLOGY class); the MUENSTER cheese/GRATER combo; ["Hot Shots!" director] for ABRAHAMS (who also did Airplane! as part of the Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker trio); [Qualifications] for PROVISOS; and [Experienced] for VERSED. I have no idea what RING GEAR is, and [Differential component] doesn't explain anything to me.
Mark Diehl's triple triple-stacked LA Times crossword has some scintillating entries. Among the nine 15-letter answers are "YOU HAD ME AT HELLO," wickedly clued as [Cruise line] (from a Tom Cruise movie, not a cruise ship line), and "AVAST, ME HEARTIES," a dab of pirate talk ([Stop order?]). Shorter answers I admired include EPHEDRA and SOCK HOP. Favorite clues: [Paper work] for ASSOCIATE EDITOR; [Contents of some carry-ons] for PETS and [Windows commonly comprise about one third of it] for AIRPLANE SEATING; [Fail to get in] for LOSE THE ELECTION; and Gladys [Knight music] for SOUL. I must remark that 38-Across can also be parsed as "YOU HAD MEAT? HELLO!"
Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy crossword, "Happy Endings," includes four phrases that end with "happy ___" words. The theme entries aren't especially fun by themselves, but the implied happy HOUR and happy FEET perk things up. ADIOS and AMIGO both appear in the film, along with Spanish-born PABLO Picasso, and German HERR and European IRISH.
March 21, 2008