March 17, 2008

Tuesday, 3/18

Onion 5:16
Tausig 4:13
CS 3:40
NYS 3:37
NYT 3:23
LAT 3:05

I'm at my Florida blogging outpost now, where the wireless works great out by the pool, but it's after dark so I'm on the couch with my kid instead. I don't know how you Floridians can stand it, this whole late-winter 81°F business. The heat! The humidity! The lack of dry, chapped winter skin! The green grass and trees! The flowers! It's crazy. Don't you people know that a proper mid-March features temps in the 30s or 40s and a winter-scorched earth? I mean, really.

My mother-in-law has enjoyed crosswords (and not in her first language—major props to those of you who tackle American crosswords despite either living in another country or growing up speaking something other than English) for years and years. My father-in-law just got into sudoku last year after he retired. He even bought a book to get better at it—Peter Gordon's Mensa Guide to Solving Sudoku. The book makes me laugh because it mentions "Gordonian Rectangles" right on the cover, and I didn't think to call any tips in my book "Reynaldoesque." He's learning, Peter!

Patrick Blindauer's New York Sun puzzle, "Two Heads Are Better Than One," was good, light fun. The quartet of theme entries are mashups of repeated-syllable terms with terms beginning with one iteration of those syllables. E.g., [Journey for a chocolate?] is a BONBON VOYAGE. Plenty of fun fill, too—gotta love anything (or anyone) with both MOXIE and VERVE. My most intense junior-high celebrity crush was ["Shadow Dancing" singer Andy] GIBB, and that cheesy poster you see adorned my bedroom wall and caused me to swoon. (My great grandmother declared his hair to be pretty, as I recall. The same visit, she was nonplussed by tacos in hard shells, as she'd never seen such a thing before.) Patrick's got two words ending with U and two with double-G—KEANU and HAIKU, BRAGG and STAGG. Is this a stealth Ugg boot theme? Favorite clues: [Ones left behind?] for TIPS, and [Pilot's place?] for GAS OVEN. Favorite random hit of pop culture: NEST clued as ["Empty ___" (Richard Mulligan sitcom)]. I have no explanation for why my husband and I watched that show for a couple years. Is it because we were nostalgic for Kristy McNichol from Family and Mulligan from Soap?

The other day when STAX, the chips that look like Pringles, were in a crossword, I secretly wished that it had been constructor David Pringle who included it. And now here he is, with the Tuesday New York Times crossword. The theme MAKES SENSE, which sounds like it makes the plural of cent/scent/sent (though the latter can't be pluralized). The other three theme entries end with those three words—HEAVEN-SENT, NOT ONE RED CENT, HOT ON THE SCENT. (Raise your hand if you went with the more colloquial HOT ON THE TRAIL first.) Slightly twisty for a Tuesday theme, isn't it? Given the business section of late, I'm not sure INVEST is such a great answer for [Play the market]; though I suppose if you're a contrarian investor or actually hew to the "buy low, sell high" approach, this is a fine time to invest. Just don't plan to RETIRE on your returns too soon. The markets in ASIA dropped Monday, didn't they? Does BUSH have anything to do with this? Does the nascent recession make you WEEP into your mai TAI? If you work for Bear Stearns, probably—you may be TOAST.


Francis Heaney's Onion A.V. Club puzzle for this week has an asymmetrical grid. Did you notice that? It's not even almost symmetrical, save for a few adjusted squares. The theme entries have 16 (9/7), 11, 12, and 18 (9/9) letters. In each, one letter changes from the original phrase to create a phrase about birth control. There's TRIUMPH OF / THE PILL (Will), MY NAME IS IUD (mud), PRIVATE PLAN B (plane), and SIX DAYS OF THE CONDOM (Condor). Very likable theme, and one that results in the fewest unplanned pregnancies. The fill doesn't sparkle uniformly—A TEN crosses A SNAP, ECCL crosses ENOCH. While the asymmetry loosens things up, the inclusion of 67 theme squares tightens the screws. There are good long chunks of fill without symmetrical partners: LOUIS PRIMA, MAMMA MIA, B. DALTON. Favorite clues: ["Evil Dead" hero] for ASH (played by Bruce Campbell—I like the most overtly spoofy "Evil Dead 3" best); [Either of Heather's parents, according to a book title] for MOMMY; [Fixture near a toilet] for BIDET (I've never seen one outside of a scares me a little); ["___ on Main St."] for EXILE (the Rolling Stones album, or is it a song?); and ["Crap!"] for "OH, NO."

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "All Together Now," unifies various concepts by tacking on a UNI- prefix to established phrases. A cornrow braid becomes the mythical street, UNICORN ROW. Browbeater becomes a UNIBROW BEATER used to shave between the eyebrows. A form letter is the UNIFORM LETTER on a team uniform. And the pièce de résistance is UNISEX TOYS, built on sex toys. Favorite clue: [Dressing spot?] for SALAD. Pop culture reigns with Twisted SISTER and SLAYER (heavy metal division), URKEL and Dom DELUISE (crappy kid-oriented viewing divisio, HOMER and CONAN (the comedy-I-like division), and Devo's "Jocko HOMO" (New Wave music division).

Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword runs the fraction gamut from an EIGHTH NOTE to a QUARTER POUNDER to a HALFTIME REPORT to WHOLE WHEAT. This progression puts me in mind of the NCAA finals, semis, quarters, Elite Eight, Sweet Sixteen, and so on. (Is there an "and so on"? Is there a term for the Thriving Thirty-Two who win their first matchup?) Favorite fill: Sheena EASTON (my dad was inordinately fond of her in the early '80s); EVIL TWIN, such as the dual roles played by Ty Treadway on One Life to Live a few years before he achieved crossword fame on Merv Griffin's Crosswords.

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Reverse Course," flip-flops the first and last words in four "___ the ___" or "___ {preposition} the ___" phrases. So one for the books becomes BOOKS FOR THE ONE, or [Reserves a single hotel room]. None of the theme entries really resonated with me—I didn't twig to the trick right away, and then I didn't enjoy an "aha" moment when I did figure it out. Wouldn't MOTORCAR appreciate a hint about old-timeyness in its clue? [Automobile] doesn't quite capture it for me. Maybe [Horseless carriage].