May 22, 2008

Friday, 5/23

NYT 5:21
LAT 4:28
CHE 3:53
NYS 3:45
CS 3:12
Jonesin' 2:55 — in Across Lite here

WSJ 8:52

Yeah, Will Shortz was right. He'd said that 18-year-old Patrick John Duggan's debut crossword, a themeless Friday New York Times puzzle, was a beauty, and it is indeed an auspicious beginning. For starters, it's got a mini-theme: Two seminal fictional crime families from film/books and TV, the CORLEONE family ([Crime family name]) from The Godfather and the SOPRANOS ([Crime family]) from the titular HBO series. (Note for newbies: A small percentage of themeless puzzles have a mini-theme, which consists of two symmetrically placed entries that are related.) There are no crappy or questionable words in the fill, though there are some two-word phrases that purists may take issue with. The highlights (with stars for my favorites):

  • [Dr. Seuss story setting] = WHOVILLE ✭
  • [Parting words] = AU REVOIR
  • [Fop in "The Wind in the Willows"] = MR. TOAD
  • [Memorable "Marathon Man" query] = "IS IT SAFE?" ✭
  • ["If you shoot at mimes, should you use a silencer?', e.g.] = ONE-LINER
  • [Literally, "art of softness"] = JUJITSU ✭
  • [Study aid?] = GRANT (great clue)
  • [Philosopher who coined the phrase "the best of all possible worlds] = LEIBNIZ
  • [Muscle strengthened by a pulldown exercise, in brief] = LAT (hey! I just did lat pulldowns on Tuesday)
  • [1988 film set in an inner-city high school] = LEAN ON ME
  • [Like some airport purchases]= DUTY-FREE ✭
  • [It was shipwrecked in 1964 somewhere in the South Pacific] = S.S. MINNOW ✭ from Gilligan's Island
  • [Popular boxing venue] = UPS STORE ✭ (wouldn't you know it? I had the first S and then filled in LAS VEGAS—it's a great clue)

I'd never heard of JOANN, the [Title girl in a 1958 hit by the Playmates]. The two-word entries that seemed less smooth than the rest of the puzzle included HUSH UP, or ["Quiet!"]; SO THEN, or ["Anyway, after that..."]; NOT IT, or [Untagged]; NO FUN, or [Like a wet blanket]; ON LATE, [Like postmidnight TV shows]; WE DID IT, or [Celebratory cry]; and MAY I SEE, or [Potential buyer's question]. Most of those phrases cross answers I singled out as my favorites, and I do tend to find these iffy phrases preferable to tortured word forms (e.g., SLAVERER, RECARVE, EXPUNGER, REPASSED). So on balance, with all the 8-letter entries that sparkle, some surprising clues, a pop-culture mini-theme, and precious little obscurity, I give this one a thumbs-up.

Alan Arbesfeld's New York Sun puzzle, "Auto Trailers," was ridiculously easy for a Friday Sun. Of course, my haste in dispatching it could be in part because I had test-solved Dave Sullivan's July 8, 2007, syndicated LA Times crossword, "Rear Wheels." (Was it considerably easier than the typical themed Friday Sun for you, too?) Alan's theme entries are:
  • [Abdominal network] = SOLAR PLEXUS
  • [Song that knocked "Ticket too Ride" out of the #1 slot] = "HELP ME, RHONDA"
  • [Words before a date] = ANNO DOMINI
  • [Has to wait for the next round, perhaps] = LOSES A TURN
  • [Spanish architect who designed the unfinished Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona] = ANTONIO GAUDI
  • ["Three's Company" hangout] = REGAL BEAGLE

Dave's set of entries included CZECHOSLOVAKIA, NORTH BIMINI, EAST RUTHERFORD, SELF PROPEL, TAKES A TURN, and the same three phrases for Audi, Lexus, and Honda.

Favorite fill in the Arbesfeld: ARMY BRAT, or [Base kid].


Patrick Berry usually edits other constructors' work for the Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, and it seems like his byline shows up only when he's got a really elegant gimmick of some sort. Here, in the 15x16 "Syllabus Space-Savers," the theme is veiled anagrams paired with an adjective that might show up in a cryptic crossword clue to suggest anagramming. To wit:
[Modern-art lecture topic: AIMED] leads to MIXED MEDIA, MEDIA being an anagram of AIMED.
[History-of-socialism lecture topc: ORAL-B] gives you ORGANIZED LABOR.
[Cartesian-geometry lecture topic: PAIRS] is ORDERED PAIRS.
[Gastroenterology lecture topic: SATCHMO] is UPSET STOMACH.
[Genetics lecture topic: AND] is RECOMBINANT DNA.
[Economics lecture topic: SEATS] is FIXED ASSET.

The fill is remarkably good for a crossword with a whopping 72 theme squares. No, I didn't recognize IPOH, the [Urban center in Malaysia], but the O should be fairly obvious in [Turkish Empire founder] OSMAN for an academic solving audience so I don't think that's a deadly crossing. SANSEI is a [Grandchild of Japanese immigrants]; I knew only Issei and Nisei. I didn't know Columbus dubbed CUBA "Isla Juana."

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "And the Last Shall Be First," is likely the easiest Jonesin' puzzle I've seen. The theme entries are people with closely related first and last names: [1992 Tim Robbins title role] is BOB ROBERTS, [Unsuccessful 2008 Republican candidate for president] is TOMMY THOMPSON, and CARL CARLTON (who?) and BILLY WILLIAMS (faintly familiar baseball name for me) join them. Favorite parts: [Word before job or tube] for BOOB; THE BEAR, or [1988 movie based on the novel "The Grizzly King"]; a LOBSTER BIB and SPORTS BARS; ELWOOD of the Blues Brothers (Jake is the other one); [Manu Ginobili's full first name] for EMANUEL (so that explains the mystifyingly non-Italian-looking name of that basketball player!); and LEA clued as ["The X-Files actor Nicholas ___].

Lee Glickstein's LA Times crossword interprets the [Lake denizen] TROUT as a [hint to this puzzle's theme]: the letter pair TR is taken OUT of each theme entry. [Aperitif?] is a SUNSET SIP (Strip); [Snafu at the base?] is MILITARY OOPS (troops); [Sewing class lesson?] is SEAMING VIDEO (streaming); and ["Fahrenheit 451," for one?] is an ASHY NOVEL (trashy). Favorite fill: TREE TOAD, LORD OVER, VESPA scooter, a LATE TAG in baseball. Favorite clues: [Drafty rooms?] for PUBS; [Big wheels] for HELMS, not LIMOS; [Movie assistant] for IGOR (not a GRIP!); and [Hotspot seeker] for a computer USER in need of a wireless hotspot.

Patrick Blindauer hides a bunch of CEOS in the middle of his theme entries in "Middle Management," today's CrosSynergy crossword, with CE ending one word and the O beginning the next. LAURENCE OLIVIER anchors the theme, with shorter FORCE OPEN, NICE ONE, FACE-OFF, and VOICE-OVER supporting him. MMVII was clued as [2007, in movie credits]; I am glad to have a Roman numeral year not clued as [Year in the term of Pope Benedict XVI]. (Over at Rex's blog recently, a commenter called such clues YOTP: year-of-the-pope. Can be pronounced "yacht-pee.") Interesting fill: TIRAMISU, SODOM, NAIFS, and WICCAN. Best clue: [They're non-PC] for IMACS.

This week's Wall Street Journal crossword by "really Mike" Shenk (a.k.a. "Marie Kelly") features a quote from MENCKEN: THE CHIEF VALUE OF / MONEY LIES IN THE / FACT THAT ONE LIVES IN A / WORLD IN WHICH IT / IS OVERESTIMATED. Despite the presence of a quote theme, I still liked the puzzle, which surely is a sign of good fill and cluing overall. What I liked: [Londoner's lot] for CAR PARK; [Heinrich Schliemann unearthed it in 1871] for TROY; the BARRACUDA, a [Plymouth muscle car]; a noted CAPITALIST opposite the bonds called TREASURIES (apt inclusions in a WSJ puzzle); [Price performance] for OPERA (Leontyne Price, not stock prices); the AGA KHAN; EBOOK with a current [Kindle download] clue (Kindle being Amazon's electronic book reader); [Prepare to switch] for BAIT; and more.