May 03, 2008

Sunday, 5/4

NYT 9:01
PI 8:35
LAT 8:07
BG 7:15
CS 4:00
NYT Second Sunday "Split Decisions" 4 minutes or so

The New York Times' second Sunday offering is another "Split Decisions" puzzle by George Bredehorn. The link above is for the PDF that Will Johnston prepared, which should print out better than the JPEG the NYT site posted. No spoilers or answers here, and this kind of puzzle has no clues to discuss. All I've got to say is: This was one of the easiest "Split Decisions" puzzles I've seen. Usually there's a knotty spot or two that take a while to unravel, but this one? I zipped through it at bedtime, which is normally a time that I can't finish puzzles before I begin to doze off. So if you haven't tried one of these critters before, try this one! (But don't expect the next one some months hence to be this easy.)

You know how many of us grumble if we encounter unfamiliar crossword entries? It's particularly true when we deem the shortcoming not to be one of our own inadequacy—a regrettable lacuna in our knowledge—but rather, one of the puzzle itself. "Who the hell knows a word like that?!? Nobody!" someone may grouse. And more seasoned solvers will pooh-pooh that: "What, you don't know EROSE? That one's been in crosswords for ages. Total gimme." There are some crosswords out there, though, that would irk even the best solver. Case in point: Today's Tribune Media Services crossword. Blogger C.C. gives the lowdown. How would you describe a daily newspaper crossword that included the following answers: CYCADS, NIPA, INTI, CRUZEIRO, AZAN, ANAEMIA without a [Brit.] tag, SGD as an abbreviation for "signed," TIFT County (it's in Georgia), GALIPOT (an impure resin of turpentine—do not confuse this with those pure resins of turpentine, my friends!), LER, IRO, and POMOS (a California tribe). Might the word abomination come to mind? I'd be all right with LER (a Celtic god; have seen it in crosswords on rare occasion) or POMOS with reasonable crossings in a hard puzzle. But most of these words would be edited out by the crossword editor, or be just cause for rejecting the puzzle—particularly if the whole grid was riddled with them. (P.S. No, I don't solve the TMS puzzle, and no, I won't be blogging about it.)

The regular New York Times crossword does not contain AZAN or INTI. You may not be familiar with every word in the grid, but they're pretty much all words that have appeared in good-quality crosswords a number of times. They're fair game. Richard Silvestri's theme is "Poplar Music," or song titles modified in punny fashion to include a kind of tree. I've heard of all the trees (though the classics like the oak and maple are absent), but two of the song titles are ones I've never heard of. I suspect it's an age thing—the [1964 Bobby Goldsboro song for tree fanciers?], CEDAR FUNNY LITTLE CLOWN, was before my time. Google tells me the real title is "See the Funny Little Clown." The other song I don't know is the [1959 Chuck Berry song for tree fanciers?], ELMOST GROWN, which presumably puns on "Almost Grown." I don't get why ELMOST is kosher here, given that it's not a word, just a longer word with a short tree name spliced into it—the other theme entries use the tree name separate from other words. The trees replace all sorts of different parts of speech—verb, preposition, repeated adjective, two words ("see the," "balls of," "I love"), and half of "almost." Ultimately not a very satisfying theme for this solver.

Unusual fill and tough answers/clues:

  • BREVET = [Nominal promotion of a military officer]
  • TIMBALES = [Tito Puente played them]
  • SUCRE = [World capital, founded in 1538, formerly known as Chuquisaca]
  • BLAT = [Be noisy] ("Sheesh! The neighbors were blatting half the night."

Clues/answers I liked:
  • [It's spotted in the wild] for OCELOT
  • [Craving, slangily] for JONES
  • [Theodor Escherich's discovery] for E COLI (Escherichia coli)
  • IN-GROUPS are [Cliques]


Paula Gamache's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" echoes the NYT crossword with TIMBAL, or [Kettledrum]. Tito Puente played Cuban timbales, while the TIMBAL appears to be a Brazilian drum of a different shape. My favorite clue here is [After all?] for DEAD LAST. I also appreciated the duplicity of [Businessmen can be vested in them] for THREE-PIECE SUITS—vesting in stock options was the first thing I thought of. There are three Shakespearean characters in the grid: IAGO, the [Villain who said "I am not what I am"] in Othello (in contradistinction to Popeye the Sailor Man, who was wont to say "I yam what I yam"); OPHELIA, [Daughter of Polonius] in Hamlet; and CASCA, though [He was the first to strike Caesar] in history as well as in Julius Caesar. ELG is clued as ["Les Girls" actress Taina]; that was a 1957 movie and she is Finnish by birth. I don't recall seeing the name before, though it would appear that her first or last name could bail a constructor out of a tight spot.

I loved Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle today. "It's Not What It Looks Like" is a twist on his "If I Wrote the Dictionary" themes—this one is what meanings are not correct, even though they may sound that way. The theme clues and answers are just plain fun, if you ask me. Merl had me at "hello," with ALBUMEN being clued [It's not German for "long-playing records"]. My other favorite theme entries: [He's not "the father of electricity"] for VOLTAIRE; [It doesn't mean "subtracted"] for NONPLUSSED; [It's not a fraction of a penny] for MILLICENT; [It's not a type of ore] for REIGNITE (rhymes with lignite!); and [It's not French for "husband-to-be"] for LEGROOM. The nonthematic action was fun, too. Favorite morsels: ["Sister Ree," really] for ARETHA Franklin; [Red river?] for LAVA; [B.B. King's thing] for the BLUES; and—best of all—[Mid-Atlantic state?] for seasick NAUSEA. (Editor's note: Lloyd Mazer, who converts Merl's crosswords into Across Lite for us, extracts them from the LA Times online magazine. What's in print in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Washington Post, however, is a puzzle called "The Secret Forest." So it's better to go by the puzzle title than the newspaper name for Merl's puzzles when the publications get out of sync. In any event, I loved the one we had today!)

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Across Lite Boston Globe puzzle (as a reminder, what's available to us in Across Lite—and we are grateful for that!—is a few weeks old, so Bostonians will have seen this crossword weeks ago) is called "A Matter of Time," and the theme entries are phrases that include units of time, in ascending order from IN A SPLIT SECOND to the THIRTY YEARS WAR. The intervening steps are Bannister's FOUR-MINUTE MILE, CANONICAL HOURS, the Beatles' EIGHT DAYS A WEEK (covering two units of time, in order!), and BOOK OF THE MONTH. They've clued CHIMERA as the [Lion-headed monster] with a capital C, whereas Merl Reagle used little-C chimera in his crossword today ([Foolish fancy]).

Ray Hamel's syndicated LA Times crossword, "Horseheads," bundles together a bunch of phrases that begin with "___ horse" words. The card game CRAZY EIGHTS, for example, ponies up Crazy Horse. The TROJAN WAR gives the closely allied Trojan horse. CHARLEY WEAVER, charley horse (ow!)—and also phrases with HIGH, DARK, QUARTER, HOBBY, SAW (7-letter SAWDUST is in the middle at 51-Down), and ROCKING. The theme entries aren't highlighted by asterisks or anything, so the puzzle sort of unspooled like a plus-sized themeless crossword—which is a pleasant thing in my book. (Figuratively speaking.) One complete mystery entry for me: KAPP is [The Searchers' record label]. I know nothing about that, but like to think that it has to do with an epic Western...