March 29, 2008

Sunday, 3/30

LAT 9:26
BG 9:07
NYT 7:43
PI hmm, somewhere between 7:30 and 9:00?
WaPo 6:58
CS tba

I'll be out at a movie when 5:00 NYT time rolls around, so let me (1) post about the three Sunday puzzles available in advance and (2) try to remember not to read any comments with NYT spoilers before I do the puzzle this evening.

Henry Hook's Across Lite Boston Globe crossword, "Car Wrecks," has 12 theme entries, some of them stacked (which is a groovy bit of construction, stacking them like that) and all of them touching or crossing at least one other car—rather like a 12-car pile-up on the interstate. Each "car wreck" is the make and model of a currently available car, though I think the FORD FREESTAR was recently discontinued. The clues are anagrams of the make/model, so there are a dozen anagrams to figure out along the way. (Huzzah, anagrams!) These answers include many unusual letter sequences; HYUNDAI SONATA threw me off with the HYU at the start, and the ZUA of ISUZU ASCENDER also addled my head. Some of the theme clues reflect Hook's fondness for the transgressive and name-calling: [RAN SEX TRAINS] (NISSAN XTERRA), [MORONIC PIE] (MINI COOPER), and [UNUSED CRAZIES] (the above ISUZU). The best anagram is [ANDY ON A HIATUS] (the HYUNDAI one). The hot little orange car in the photo is a LOTUS ELISE ([UTILE SOLES]). Given the traffic jam of theme entries, some of the fill is tougher than usual—most NOTABLY (which is 119-Across), AVNET at 4-Down and REDI (of the non-Wip variety) at 65-Across were unfamiliar to me. I really liked the anagram challenge—did you enjoy it too, or is this the sort of puzzle that's no more fun than a quote puzzle to you because you're ignoring the theme clues and relying on the crossings to do the heavy lifting?

I tackled Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle, "Oh, It's You Again," on Friday. Alas, the Across Lite file corrupted itself, and I jotted down my solving time and some notes in the Across Lite Notepad, so my solving time is guesstimated. Each theme entry contains the OU letter sequence twice, except for "COULDA, SHOULDA, WOULDA," which has three. Among the 11 theme entries are two stacked pairs, as in the Hook puzzle; Merl also likes to show off by stacking theme answers. While I do love the Seinfeld "NO SOUP FOR YOU!" and the Gilligan's Island "A THREE-HOUR TOUR," the other theme entries aren't particularly notable for anything but having a pair of OU's. Is there a regional variance in the order of the "__oulda" words in the center phrase? I always go with "woulda, coulda, shoulda," myself.

Hey, what's the date of the final Sunday Washington Post crossword? How many more weeks before weekend puzzling loses one of its bright spots? This weekend, we still have one, "Classic April Fool's Hoaxes" by Matt and Navarre Ginsberg. One of the nine theme entries made me laugh—POWDERED WATER. Just add water! (This was a Hong Kong April Fool's joke, addressing a water shortage with several approaches, including powdered water. Add one pint of water to the powder and magically get 10 pints of water!) That entry is stacked atop ORANGEADE, and I like to think the combination of the two is basically Tang. SPAGHETTI was the subject of a 1957 hoax saying it was grown in Switzerland; I will confess here that when Barilla or some other pasta/sauce brand ran TV commercials showing people harvesting spaghetti noodles from the trees in the spaghetti orchard, it was so well done, so perfectly filmed in the style of orchard-based orange juice ads, that it went right over my head. How great would it be if we could send e-mail via TELEPATHY? I would also love it if I could blog telepathically. By the time I get home, the urge to document whatever oddball bit of hilarity I encountered has passed, and the internet is poorer for it. Really. Fun theme, Matt and Navarre!


The second annual AAUW Crossword Puzzle Tournament took place this afternoon out east somewhere (Philadelphia, maybe?). JerryR, who has a newborn crossword-related blog, attended and wrote about it. Congrats to Susan Hoffman, who took the top prize. (In the blog's sidebar, Jerry describes himself as "just another obsessive creep." That, of course, is an homage to Daniel Okrent, one of the people featured inWordplay. Showing his detailed written log of his NYT solving times, Okrent explains that he keeps those records "because I'm an obsessive creep" and to document when exactly his mental decline begins. That's among the funnier bits in the movie, if you ask me.)

Paula Gamache's New York Times crossword, "Mixed Feelings," takes a different approach to anagrams, with 11 phrases that include anagrams of feelings rather than fully anagrammed theme entries, as in the Hook puzzle. The anagrams are rather incidental to this puzzle as far as solving goes—the theme entries are clued straightforwardly, and if the scrambled feelings weren't circled, the theme would be nearly invisible. It's a pity that the fill worked out with TOENAIL CLIPPERS (TOENAIL anagrams to elation) in the marquee position of the first Across theme entry, because...toenail clippers? CASEY STENGEL feels ecstasy. TELEPHONE has hope. Irina SLUTSKAYA has lust (and I can scarcely believe that SLUT is what shows up in the circled letters!). THIRD GEAR has rage. The POTATO MASHER feels shame, and really, there is no need to be ashamed of mashed potatoes, no matter how much butter and sour cream are mixed in. SPORTS EQUIPMENT feels pique. There's a prideful PINSTRIPED SUIT; empathy in EMPTY-HANDED; boredom in BEDROOM EYES; and love in a PADDED ENVELOPE. In the middle of the grid, 64-Down is PSY., short for psychology, [Subj. that deals with mixed feelings].

Outside the theme, did you know that a [Japanese eel and rice dish] is called UNADON? That a [close overlapping of fugue voices] is called STRETTO? Or that there's an [Amazon parrot] called the ARARA? I didn't. Favorite clues: [Zingers] for INSULTS; [Leaves for lunch?] for SALAD; [K.G.B. predecessor] for OGPU (OGPU is fun to say as a word, it's short for Объединённое государственное политическое управление, and of course I learned of it through crosswords and crosswords alone...but OGPU!); and [Representations of a winged woman holding an atom] for EMMYS (the TV awards). ELOCUTE, clued as [Declaim], has far less of a dictionary presence than elocution; I wonder how many -tion nouns are significantly more common than their associated verbs. I've never seen the SHLEPP spelling ([Lug: Var.]) before; I just bookmarked this Yiddish-English glossary (which lists shlep, shleppen, and shlepper, but not shlepp) for future reference. I hear that the applet was showing an incomplete clue for 117-Down earlier—the correct clue for QUO is [Status ___], not [Status].

Updated again:

Rich Norris's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" offers a Scrabbly good time. Each quadrant has its share of uncommon letters—the MOD SQUAD and GAZPACHO in the northwest, clued as [Captain Adam Greer's group, with "The"] and [Soup served chilled]; the BRONZE MEDAL ([Olympics award]) crossing a REFLEX like a [Knee jerk, for one] down in the southwest; SARAJEVO ([1984 Olympics city]) spanning the southeast; and CALL IT QUITS up in the last corner. There's a pair of TV military clues—Gomer Pyle was in the USMC and Sergeant Bilko was a MSGT. Two short entries that touch at their corners, THE and BIRD, are the [nickname for '70s pitcher Mark Fidrych, who was said to resemble a big Sesame Street critter]. I'm not sure why Rich opted for an F in the word above SARAJEVO—[___ end (remnant)] is a perfect clue for TAG (tag end is defined as "remnant"), and TERN, the gull-like bird, is a valid, if dull, crossword answer. FERN is nice, and FAG end is also in the dictionary, but it can be a tad jarring to see FAG in the crossword grid. I do like the fact that this usage has Middle English etymology (Middle English fagge, fag, broken thread in cloth, something that hangs loose).

The syndicated LA Times crossword by Ed Early is called "Star Century," and until I made it to the bottom of the puzzle I had no idea what the theme was. ALL ABOUT EVE—that's a movie. All the other asterisked clues? Didn't ring a bell for me. It turns out BETTE (121-Across) DAVIS (122-Across) was born 100 years ago this week, and the theme entries were the titles of 10 of her films (nine of which were completely unfamiliar to me). STORM CENTER isn't meteorological at all—it's a movie about a '50s librarian who stands tall against the anti-Communist folks who want a book removed from the library's collection. Anti-censorship librarians kick ass! There should be more movies about them. The non-theme fill slowed me down, particularly some of the shorter answers. [Noggin] is NOB? Nob is also slang for "penis," apparently. [Somewhat world-weary] is JADISH; haven't seen that formulation before. [Guitarist Cline of the band WIlco] has a lot of nerve having a Scandinavian name like NELS with a non-Scandinavian surname. [The Beatles' "___ Blues"] fills in its blank with YER, and that Y crosses a Y in LAY BY, which wasn't the first answer that came to mind for [Save]. I was fine with [___ Tzu: small dog] because I know how to spell SHIH-Tzu, but not everybody does: