May 28, 2008

Thursday, 5/29

NYT 7:34
NYS 5:05
CS 2:51
LAT 2:26

By the way, that new ad atop this page? If you've got unlimited data service on your cellphone and you're looking for a good crossword application, click that ad for a free three-day trial of Crossword Cafe. The puzzles are from the CrosSynergy syndicate—meaning six easyish themed puzzles and one smooth themeless per week, from top-notch constructors including Bob Klahn, Rich Norris, and about a dozen others. Last I heard, Crossword Cafe was using puzzles from 2006, but intends catch up at some point and provide newer puzzles. Now, a phone isn't optimized for speed-solving, but if you've been hankering for crosswords on the small screen, check it out.

John Farmer's New York Times crossword inadvertently vexed me. *IAN*, [A Baldwin]? That must be DIANE Baldwin. She's famous, right? I know the name. Whoops—she's a crossword constructor. The answer was PIANO. I spent a minute or more toying with the rebus entries in an attempt to please the NYT applet before I realized the problem was that I'd only half-corrected DIANE and had DIANO. Er, no. Those rebus entries add a big fillip of cleverness—they're two-way rebus squares, replacing the word ACROSS in the Across direction and DOWN the other way. Why, what a coincidence! ACROSS and DOWN are so crosswordy! (I like insidery, toy-with-convention gimmicks like this.) The theme entries are:

  • [First clue] = ONE {ACROSS} crossing [Jazz/blues monthly] = {DOWN}BEAT
  • [Spans, as a river] = STRETCHES {ACROSS} crossing [Hit the skids] = GO {DOWN}HILL
  • [Relocate from one side to the other] = MOVE {ACROSS} TOWN crossing [Master] = GET {DOWN} PAT
  • [Facing one's house from a short distance away, say] = {ACROSS} THE STREET crossing [Scorn] = LOOK {DOWN} ON
  • [Transect] = CUT {ACROSS} crossing [Inverted} = UPSIDE-{DOWN}

The rebus squares aren't quite symmetrical—4-Down and 45-Down aren't opposite one another in the grid. All four corners contain three 7-square entries (three of them involving rebus action), and two of the liveliest entries are 11 letters long: ARSENIO HALL, who was Eddie Murphy's ["Coming to America" co-star], and those [Versatile performers], ONE-MAN BANDS (here are Pixar's dueling one-man bands). Tricky spots: TANTO is [Non ___ (not so much, in music)]. A Russian crosswordese burg is OREL, [City on the Oka]. Never heard of [Hall-of-Fame Nascar racer Bobby] ISAAC. High points: IN VITRO, or [Like some fertility lab techniques]; [Kvetcher's cry], OY VEY ("Is it a Northern thing?"); the noun [Innocent] for LAMB; [Celt of NW France] for BRETON (you can read up on Brittany here); [Hide in a closet?] for LEATHER; and ["This is not ___" (warning label)] for A TOY. Nice job, John! A rebus puzzle is always a bit of a surprise, and you managed to embed an extra element of surprise in your gimmick.

I need to finish the Sun puzzle in the morning and go to bed now—I'm so sleepy my eyes are closing mid-clue!


Alrighty, after a good night's sleep, Joe DiPietro's New York Sun crossword made a ton more sense to me. It had taken me over 2 minutes to complete the first quarter or maybe third of the puzzle last night, and less than 3 more minutes to finish the rest this morning. The "Double Down" theme entries swap in the numbers ONE, TWO, FOUR, and EIGHT (each one double its predecessor) for won, to, for, and ate. For example, [Knock down the king and queen?] in chess could be FELL TWO PIECES, playing on the verb phrase "fall to pieces." Favorite clues: [Star of stars?] for Carl SAGAN, star of Cosmos; [Portrayer of Crane and Sparrow on film] for Johnny DEPP, whose bird-named characters were Ichabod Crane and Captain Jack Sparrow; [Took the wrong way?] for LED ASTRAY; [Fairly large] for TIDY, as in "a tidy sum" but not in many other phrases; and [Go around and around, in a way] for EDDY. Zippiest fill: AL ROKER, providing the weather forecast.

LOLA is in DiPietro's grid, clued as [Top 10 song of October 1970]. "Lola" was a Kinks song. Another Kinks song is included in this cool quiz compiled by Matthew Baldwin. Each quiz item is an alphabetical listing of the words included in an individual rock song's lyrics. The trick is to distill the song title and artist based on the lyric vocabulary. The first one, for example, is a and baby be become can come couldn’t fire funeral get girl hesitate higher i if in is it know liar light lose love mire much my night no now on only our pyre say set that the through time to try untrue wallow was we would yeah you. Catchy, right?

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Moment of Truth," features a quote theme: "I DO NOT MIND LYING / BUT / I HATE INACCURACY," by SAMUEL / BUTLER. What exactly does that mean? Aren't lies a divergence from accuracy as well?

The theme in Donna Levin's LA Times crossword tumbled like a house of cards. With EDMUND filled in by easy crossings at the beginning of 20-Across and [Site of the feat] related to EDMUND and 55-Across including EVER in its midst, EDMUND HILLARY, TENZING NORGAY, MOUNT EVEREST, and THE HIMALAYAS practically filled themselves in. Hillary is clued as [Name in the news 55 years ago today]; I suspect this would have been a Monday puzzle if not for the anniversary date dropping it on a Thursday. Favorite fill: EQUIVOCAL ([Wishy-washy]), PLAYBOYS ([Casanovas]), BIG TOE ([Water tester]), "USA! USA!" ([Olympics chant]), and END ZONE ([Area where excessive celebration is discouraged]).