April 14, 2008

Tuesday, 4/15

Tausig 4:15—print this one out before solving—or just ignore the theme clues
Onion 4:11
CS 4:09
NYS 3:34
LAT 2:40
NYT 2:35

Tax day! April 15th! Be sure to get your return filed if you haven't done so yet. (Canadians, Aussies, and other outlanders—pay no mind.) My returns were completed and the checks (alas) written a couple weeks ago...and they'll go out in the mail tomorrow.

Ken Bessette tightens up the theme in his New York Times crossword by having each theme entry begin with the same letter. The MIDTERM exam in the middle of the grid offers a hint to what the theme entries have in common besides that initial M—each has TERM ensconced in it, split between -TER and M- parts (e.g., METER MAIDS, MISTER MAGOO). I got off to a slow start with 1-Across, [Like a cold fish], crossing [Beggar's cry]. Erm, MOIST and MORE? No: ALOOF (a metaphorical cold fish) and ALMS, which, I must say, I have not heard from a panhandler. "Alms for the poor, ma'am" is maybe not so effective an approach these days. While I'm not sure that DEEP ENDS, the plural, is something people talk about (as opposed to the deep end, singular), I commend Mr. Bessette for the assortment of longish fill answers. The ZAMBEZI River atop SKIWEAR! RUTGERS University atop a GUMDROP! Mr. SANDMAN, bringing me a dream. Those who've paid attention to the entertainment business in the past decade probably got the two [Former Disney chief Michael] answers right off the bat—EISNER and OVITZ. Nice change-up to have these guys instead of the current Disney chief with a last name built for crosswords, Robert IGER.

Paula Gamache's New York Sun crossword, "Have a Good Time!", drops a DINGO in almost exactly the same spot one appeared in the NYT puzzle (clues: [Down Under dog], [Dog from Down Under]). Paula offers us five ways to have a good time—have a GREENHOUSE GAS in the conservatory, a NUCLEAR BLAST at the power plant, a PRISON RIOT in the slammer, a WRECKING BALL where cars are smashed, and a LABOR PARTY in the delivery room. (Amniotic fruit punch?) Favorite clue: [Love lover] for Kurt COBAIN. This one took me far too long to parse and understand—COB AIN? CO BAIN? Oh! Some other entries took a while to come together—IT'S WAR (the [Fighting words]); books sold ON TAPE (not ON-LINE); EAST LYME, Connecticut (Lyme and Old Lyme are where Lyme disease got its name); SCABBING, which I suspected was the answer but didn't realize was a verb.


Today is April 15, and Rich Norris's CrosSynergy puzzle is taxing. There are six "Take-Home Pay" theme entries. AFTER TAX sums up the other theme entries, which are nonexistent entities made up from two words that follow "tax" in common phrases. (That nonexistence explains the relative difficulty of the puzzle.) No, there's no such thing as an EVASION FORM, but there are tax evasion and tax forms. There's no TIP HAVEN, but there are tax tips and tax havens. I had the final G filled in for [Online journal] and thought, "Here we go again with another so-called (or not really so-called) EMAG," and lo and behold, it turned out to be BLOG. Indeed! Spot on.

Ha! Guess what the last word I filled in on Gail Grabowski's LA Times crossword was. Within three minutes of slamming EMAG, here it is, [Online issue, for short]. I mean, I'd use it in fill if I had to, too, don't get me wrong. Here, it's connected to the G in GOOD USE, which crosses not one, but two theme entries. (We could replace that section with SING, OMOO, and LETO, but is it a good trade, on balance, to get OMOO and LETO? Probably not.) The theme entries rhyme with "oak," but spell the sound four different ways. (Yes, English is such a polyglot mutt of a language, it's a wonder anyone learns to spell the many thousands of words that spell the same sound in different ways.) There's a HOODED CLOAK, GOLF STROKE, GENTLEFOLK, and HIGH BAROQUE. I wonder if the constructor intentionally limited the theme entries to G and H beginnings.

Matt Gaffney's Onion A.V. Club crossword hits a lot of my mental sweet spots. The theme is obsolete technologies in phrases that persist, such as BE KIND, REWIND (Who rewinds VHS tapes any more? DVDs, baby. I just saw that movie, Be Kind Rewind, a couple weeks ago—the goofy stuff was funny, but the filmmakers snuck in a plot with heart and seriousness and I wasn't expecting that), "CAUGHT ON TAPE" (digital video now), RECORD STORES (which moved quickly past cassettes to CDs), and DRUNK DIALING (rotary dial phones?). The STASI are in the fill, which spurs me to recommend that you watch The Lives of Others, a terrific German movie that Ellen Ripstein rightly raved about a year or two ago. Favorite entries: RONALDO, the [AC Milan superstar] (he's almostReynaldo); MOON PIE; "SO WRONG." Favorite clues: [Privates field] for UROLOGY; ["Nice insult!"] for SNAP (my son has taken to saying "Oh, snap!" but using it instead as a replacement for the other S-word); [Goddess for whom a European capital is named] for ATHENA; [Late singer-bassist for the Cars Benjamin ___] for ORR; [X, Y, or Z] for GEN (generation, not gender); [Big ___ (body part)] for TOE; ["Gadzooks!"] for YEGODS; and [Good, long look] for GANDER.

Gotta run—Tausig puzzle in a few hours.

Updated anew:

All right, I've done Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "When the Levy Breaks." I don't yet know how the theme works because Across Lite doesn't wrap long clues—it just keeps running them across, and my 20" widescreen monitor just can't fit the grid and the longest clues at the same time. (Adding clue wrap is one of Jerry R's ideas for improving on Across Lite—if you've got a wish list of features and functions you wish a crossword-solving app offered, go leave a comment at Jerry's blog, Square Times. He might program a new application.) I wish I would've printed it out before I solved it. The crossings were reasonable enough that I finished the puzzle without paying attention to the gimmicked-up theme clues. The long clues instruct the solver to take a couple words (or parts of words) elsewhere in the puzzle and use them as clues for other answers. The [Add vertical line 13 (word 3) and vertical line 3 (word 1) together and enter the answer to the resulting clue on this line] approach is horribly convoluted, unnecessarily difficult and unclear, and prone to error. Hey, just like IRS forms! I guess that's one way to respond to the frustration of grappling with tax forms—make a crossword that pays homage to the IRS's finest obfuscation. The answer to 21-Across, SPRING BREAK, is clued as [Refund] after you do the work of removing the airport abbreviation (LAX) from the word at 74-Across and adding 33-Down after removing the letter that's also a magazine (O), but the clues for 74-Across and 33-Down require you to find them by answering still other clues and combining them. It's frightfully circular—much like the instructions for tax forms. I'm kinda glad I skipped the theme clues and solved around them (...like hiring an accountant to do my taxes). If you printed it out and faithfully tried to follow the instructions, was it a fun gimmick or a painfully convoluted, IRS-like experience?