May 12, 2008

Tuesday, 5/13

Onion 5:02
NYS 4:45
Tausig 4:03
LAT 3:46
CS 3:30
NYT 3:00

If you're thirsting for the NY Sun crosswords and still can't download them via the Sun's website (as of Monday night, the puzzles hadn't been posted), try calling the newspaper to complain at (212) 406-2000. (Edited to add: They're posted as of 8 a.m. Tuesday. Thanks for the heads-up, Pete.)

On Monday afternoon, Will Shortz alerted the NYT "Today's Puzzle" forum that two of this month's puzzles mark debuts by teenage constructors. The Tuesday puzzle is by 15-year-old Caleb Madison and the themeless on Friday of next week is by an 18-year-old named Patrick John Duggan.

Will provided an updated list of the 15 youngest known constructors in NYT history—12 published by Will in the last decade and three from the pre-Maleska era. Here are their names, birthdates, date of first publication in the NYT, and age at publication:

1. Mike Miller, 11/20/62, 12/6/76 (Will Weng), 14 yrs 0 mos
2. Caleb Madison, 1/29/93, 5/13/08, 15 yrs 3 mos
3. Tyler Hinman, 11/5/84, 7/4/00, 15 yrs 7 mos
4. Ethan Cooper, 3/23/83, 5/17/99, 16 yrs 1 mo
5. Will Nediger, 12/4/89, 5/27/06, 16 yrs 5 mos
6. Natan Last, 11/13/90, 7/17/07, 16 yrs 8 mos
7. Michael Shteyman, 5/9/84, 2/13/01, 16 yrs 9 mos
8. Kyle Mahowald, 3/7/87, 3/22/04, 17 yrs 0 mos
9. Merl Reagle, 1/5/50, 2/11/67 (Margaret Farrar), 17 yrs 1 mo
10. Oliver Hill, 7/30/90, 10/2/07, 17 yrs 2 mos
11. Patrick John Duggan, 9/18/89, 5/23/08, 18 yrs 8 mos
12. Michael Doran, 9/28/84, 9/16/03, 18 yrs 11 mos
13. Jeffrey Harris, 8/22/85, 8/30/04, 19 yrs 0 mos
14. Zach Jesse, 9/1/84, 1/19/04, 19 yrs 3 mos
15. Henry Hook, 9/18/55, 5/23/75 (Will Weng), 19 yrs 8 mos

As noted above, the New York Times crossword is by high-school student Caleb Madison. The theme's described by the central entry, UNITED ARTISTS, a [Classic film company...], and the other four theme entries are phrases or compound words formed from a mash-up of two celebrity names—all of them vocalists, making for a tight theme. [Singers Clint + Patti] is BLACKSMITH, or Clint Black and Patti Smith. PETTY CASH is [Singers Tom + Johnny), YOUNG LOVE is [Singers Neil + Courtney], and BROWNSTONE is [Singers James + Sly]. The 10-letter answers are compound words while the 9s are phrases, so there's symmetry to the variation. Seeing all these names packed together compelled me to spend a half hour gathering (and enjoying) these YouTube videos:
There were a lot of 3-letter answers floating around in this grid, but also some lovely longer ones, such as BUM RAP ([Accused's bad break]), ELYSIAN ([Heavenly]), GET SMART ([1960s sitcom with the catchphrase "Sorry about that, Chief"]), MASSEUR ([Ache reliever]), John LITHGOW, EARWAX, CLENCH ([Grip tightly]), and the NAUTILUS ([Vessel in "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea"]). Seeing ICBMS at 1-Down ([Cold war weaponry]) makes me hear Bill Clinton narrating a crossword he's solving in Wordplay. (You see a movie nine times, and numerous lines do become indelible.)


The New York Sun puzzle by Alan Arbesfeld, "Gaining Weight," adds a disparate unit of weight (or mass...whichever) to the beginning or end of a word in assorted phrases to transform it into something entirely different. Dotcom + 16 oz. = a DOT COMPOUND that produces pixels. Den mother + 1/16th lb. = DENOUNCE MOTHER (sigh...and so soon after Mother's Day). Charles Atlas + 2,000 lb. = CHARLESTON ATLAS, handy for West Virginia travels. Skinflint + 14 lb. = SKIN FLINTSTONE (eww). And pro bono + .0353 oz. = PROGRAM BONO. The freshest entry is one I'd never heard of: MR. MAY, or [Steinbrenner's disparaging name for Dave Winfield] (cf. Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, good in the postseason). Toughest clues for me: [Equiangular] is ISOGONAL and [Conrad of old films] is NAGEL.

I made the wrong assumption about Lynn Lempel's CrosSynergy crossword, "Get Over It!" When the first theme entry was CROSS STREET, I figured the theme entries would be things one might cross or "get over." When the SORE THROAT, ANGRY CLOUD, and STEAMED CRAB came along, eventually it dawned that cross, sore, angry, and steamed were all synonyms. Favorite entries: Scrabbly [Mexico's early reformist president Benito] JUAREZ, AGNOSTIC, LEE J. COBB in his full-named splendor, "NO THANKS," CRUDDY, INTUIT, and a STRAY DOG.

Don Gagliardo's LA Times crossword makes me think of the "Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia!" Chia Pet commercials—the theme entries are five phrases in which both words begin with CH (though a couple of the digrams are pronounced like a K, not "tch"). I am not a jazz musician and didn't know a [Jazz musician's guide] was a CHORD CHART, but it was gettable thanks to the CH's. The [Land-and-sea military vehicle] AMTRAC crossed [Freq. unit] or MHZ, but could just as well have been the less mellifluous AKTRAC/KHZ. Is everyone but me well-versed in military vehicles?

Updated Tuesday evening:

Tyler Hinman's Onion A.V. Club crossword theme is amusing, especially if you're a game show fan: horribly wrong answers that contestants have given on FAMILY FEUD. For example, ["An article of clothing that children are always losing." "___"] is PANTS. Including the game show title (itself a theme entry, as a game show answer to "Something you would cheat on if you knew you wouldn't get caught"), there are seven theme entries. Some short, like PANTS, but all funny. And that's one of the things that makes crosswords entertaining—themes that give you a bunch of "aha!" or "hah!" moments. Excellent fill, too—ED ASNER, ERSATZ, G-FORCE, Dan Quayle's misspelled POTATOE (a choice example of a non-dictionary-sanctified word that can still be entertaining in a crossword), and the three-word GO IN FOR. I asked my eight-year-old 1-Down, [Jerry's frequent victim], 3 letters. Yay! Ben got TOM straightaway. (Yes, the "Tom & Jerry" cartoons not only are still airing, but I believe they're supplemented with new episodes.)

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago reader crossword, "Mouth Pieces," keeps it simple with three dental restorations doing double duty in the theme entries. For example, [Racing rarity, or a multi-tooth restoration?] is TRIPLE CROWN. Lovely fill—GANESH crossing the controversial GAS TAX (or rather, the idea of suspending said tax is a matter of controversy); the White SOX and Alan LOMAX beefing up the X quotient; NINTENDO; tasty BLINI; the POLE VAULT; "NO CAN DO." Favorite clues: [Batshit crazy] for PSYCHO (I prefer "batshit insane," but this clue plus a 6-letter space left the uncertainty: is it INSANE or PSYCHO?); [Thing that may stick in a fur coat] for a BUR (presumably meaning an animal's coat of fur, and not the removed pelts of same fashioned into a coat for people); [Ieoh Ming ___] for PEI (I.M. Pei's full name, which I learned from crosswords); [It may express itself] for a GENE; and [Russian neighbor] for ALASKA.