June 05, 2008

Friday, 6/6

NYT 8:42
NYS untimed (5:00-ish?)
LAT 4:something
CHE 3:something
CS 2:53

WSJ 6:30

Hey, remember that Starbucks crossword contest two or three years ago? It had excellent puzzles by Patrick Berry (edited by Will Shortz), and an endgame that allowed a lucky guesser to skip the ultra-challenging final puzzle altogether but call in with the correct answer...which was..."Starbuck(s)." So that was disappointing. But now there's a new advertisement-based "Crossword Challenge Series" from a financial company I've never heard of. I saw a 13x13 crossword in the latest New Yorker, apparently the second of six crosswords. The "theme" is books, but instead of having a set of symmetrically placed theme entries, a bunch of answers have fill-in-the-blank book title clues. And not famous books, no. For example, there's ["Lake ___ Stories: Struggle and Survival on a Freshwater Ocean], 4 letters, common crossword fill. There are also some obscurities, like [Ancient Rome's bronze money]. But the real highlights? Oh, they're doozies. I'm gonna go ahead and give away a couple more answers, just to give you a taste. There's [Books such __ "___ of Green Gables," celebrating 100th this year], which clues the two-word non-phrase AS ANNE, and my personal favorite, [Peach-like fruit...partially eaten here?]. That last one's got 4 letters. Go ahead and guess the answer. (You can go http://www.futuresweeps.com/">here to solve it yourself and enter the contest (one randomly drawn entrant with a correct puzzle gets a camera; among the entrants for all six puzzles, one grand prize winner gets an Italy vacation).

Peter Collins' New York Sun puzzle, "Thinkin' Inside the Box," toys with the convention that punctuation is ignored when entering one's answers into the grid. Here, you need to be thinkin' about the apostrophe, as each theme entry has two of them, and they need to occupy their own squares (if you're using Across Lite, the letter A for apostrophe works). [Fire starter of legend] is MRS O'LEARY'S COW (the period after MRS is still omitted), with the key crossings being WE'RE (["#1" follows it]) and "IT'S NO USE" (["I give up!"]). [Perplexed] means AT ONE'S WITS' END, crossing the [Lego alternative] K'NEX and C'MON ([When doubled, a 2002 Sheryl Crow album]). At the bottom, a [Calculus topic] I don't know anything about is L'HOPITAL'S RULE, crossing O'ER and MA'AM. What good is the apostrophe? As my eight-year-old explained, "You use it, or it doesn't make any sense." Indeed! Favorite nonthematic fill: BAD SANTA and SLOUCHED. Favorite clues: [Vincent's successor] is Bud SELIG, MLB commissioner; the word TACO means [Literally, "wadding"]. I wish I'd noticed that the Across Lite timer wasn't starting automatically, because the puzzle felt pretty fast for a Friday Sun.

Ashish Vengsarkar has ventured away from themed crosswords for the first time with the Friday New York Times puzzle. The grid features five 15-letter entries traveling across, intersecting two more 15s going down.

There's nothing like plugging in an incorrect letter and failing to see that it makes no sense in the crossing, and spending a good three minutes or more looking for it, is there? I had RUNS IS THE FAMILY crossing SARD, which is a red-orange chalcedony, rather than IN crossing NARD, an [Olden ointment]. SARD and NARD are both words I never see outside of a crossword grid. Anyone else muddle those two together?

The marquee answer is TRY GOOGLING THIS, [Mean crossword clue writer's challenge to solvers]. In this puzzle, the solver might well be able to Google the tough stuff. For example:

  • [Saint whose name means "good"] is AGATHA. I just Googled it, and the first page of results doesn't shout AGATHA. Once this blog post is indexed by Google, that may change.
  • [Fortune 500 company whose toll-free number ends with 23522] is AFLAC. Hey, that answer isn't easy to Google, either!
  • [Molly of early stage and screen] is semi-familiar to me from past crosswords: PICON. (An easy get for a Googler.)
  • ["Scandalized Masks" painter, 1883] is the Belgian James ENSOR. (A quick Google gives him away.)
  • [What you might wind up with] is a REEL, which you can use to wind up tape or fishing line. (Google-resistant!)
  • [1970s tennis star Ramirez] is RAUL, which I got from the crossings. (Googleable, but with effort.)
  • [What a scene is seen in] is an ACT of a play. (Google-resistant.)
  • [Very desirous person's sacrifice?] is his or her RIGHT ARM (not to be confused with EYETEETH). (Google-resistant.)
  • [Psalm ender] is SELAH and [Psalm starter] is O GOD. (More Bibleable than Googleable.)
  • [Compound added to natural gas to give it an odor] is THIOL. (Google will tell you to try to fit MERCAPTAN in there, but it won't work.)
  • [Word with card or catalog] is UNION. I didn't know if the UNION came before or after those words. Before, apparently. (Google isn't so good at these "or" clues.)
  • [Fictional river of verse] is ALPH, from Coleridge's "Kubla Khan." (Google is less help than a solid base of literary knowledge.)
  • [Three-time skiing world champion Hermann] MAIER is an easy Googlee.
  • [Chlorure de sodium] is French for "sodium chloride" or "salt," ergo SEL. (Easy to Google.)
  • [Heroin, slangily] is SCAG, I once learned from a crossword. (Googling that clue gets you a lot of drug slang, but you'd be on your own for digging through it all for the right 4-letter answer.)
  • [Neighbor of Helsinki] is ESPOO. (Surprisingly, the very first Google hit right now, not a crossword site, gives the answer.)

Moving past the exploration of how "TRY GOOGLING THIS" applies to this puzzle, here are some assorted clues and answers I liked:
CREAM PIE, the [Boston specialty].
[Zeroes], the verb, for RESETS, as an odometer.
[Something about Mary?] is a HALO of holiness. Cute.
The Jerry Maguire line "YOU HAD ME AT 'HELLO.'" I like to parse that as "YOU HAD MEAT? HELLO!"
BEIJING OLYMPICS, clued as [Event starting on 08/08/08 at 08:08:08 p.m.]. I'm sure one of you can tell me why all the 8's.
[Inspire] for AROUSE. Spot-on, but in a roundabout way.
To be BEYOND SUSPICION is to be [Unimpeachable].
A [Spit, e.g.] of land might be a SHOAL.
ABDULLAH looks good in the grid. He is [Fahd's successor in Saudi Arabia]. I wonder how he's making out with the sky-high oil prices these days.
[Kind of band], 3 letters starting with J? Must be JAM band, right? Nope. It's a JUG band this time.
Punctuation counts. [One driving a bus.?] has that period for a reason: it's a CEO running a business.
ETHNIC CLEANSING is indeed a 15-letter phrase, and it's got a lot of common letters so it fit right in as a [Heinous war crime]. Does anyone want the term in their crossword, though?


Alas! Ah, me! Alack! Nerts! (And other woeful expressions found in crosswords.) I had solved the Chronicle of Higher Education, CrosSynergy, and Los Angeles Times crosswords and blogged about them, and had one more puzzle to go before clicking "publish post"...and the browser and Across Lite both froze on me. Well, I didn't really have much to say about those puzzles aside from describing the themes, and I'm in no mood to recreate what I'd written. If you have questions or remarks about those puzzles, don't hesitate to share them in the comments parlor.

Post-restart, I found the Wall Street Journal crossword, "Ballot Boxers," to be strikingly easy for a WSJ puzzle. Randy Ross's theme is boxing phrases that are often applied to the political campaign setting—CAME OUT SWINGING, PULLED NO PUNCHES, WENT THE DISTANCE, etc. Favorite clue: [Saint of "Exodus"] for EVA MARIE Saint, not a canonized saint. Lots of good fill—MAELSTROM opposite MILESTONE, TEMPURA and CIMARRON stacked nicely atop a theme entry, EVIL EYES.