June 27, 2008

Saturday, 6/28

LAT 6:43
Newsday 6:36
NYT 5:52
CS 3:56

All righty, let me be quick here so I can get my kid to bed. The New York Times puzzle's by Byron Walden, and it feels like it's been a little too long since his last Saturday NYT. My favorite entries:

  • The ROYAL WE, or [The "I" of Elizabeth I?]. We like this one.
  • ZIPLOC BAG, or [Holder of many a sandwich].
  • TURNS TAIL, or [Goes yellow, say].
  • SOCK AWAY, or [Save].
  • MR. ROMANCE, or [2005 reality show hosted by Fabio]. 
  • CRAN, or [Start of some blended juice names]—I do actually think of that class of Ocean Spray beverages as cran-something drinks, so these days it's a solid word unit on its own.
  • RESORTS TO, or [Uses in desperation]. I am delighted not to have had to resort to Google for this puzzle.
  • NEW DO, or [Change at the top?]. My new do involves a cut with "more movement," according to ze stylist, and summery highlights. In case you were wondering.
  • PIRANHA, or [Ruthless type]. Guessed this one off the final A.
  • SASHAYS, or [Steps lively]. I should really sashay more often.

The clues I enjoyed most:
  • [They come with strings attached] for both HARPS and YO-YOS. I entered YO-YOS for the first one and had to backtrack, so it was nice to be right the second time.
  • [Coming right back at you?] for ECHOIC.
  • [Heart failures?] for RENEGES. This has to do with a card game. Bridge, maybe?
  • [Item called a geyser in Britain] is a WATER HEATER. Makes a certain amount of loopy sense.
  • [Will work?] for an OP-ED ESSAY by George Will.
  • [Corps of corpses?] for ZOMBIES.

The "Huh?" category:
  • BEAM ENGINES are [Steam-driven devices that pump water from mines].
  • I have seen AGA in plenty of crosswords, but [Janissary commander] was out there. The Wikipedia article on the Janissaries refers to something called the Auspicious Incident, which is the best name ever for a historical event.
  • [1785 invention of England's Edmund Cartwright] for a LOOM. Plausible enough.
  • ALCIDS are [Auks, puffins and related birds]. I've seen this word approximately twice in my life. Not to be confused with Alcee Hastings, El Cid, or antacids.
  • [Owen ___, rebel in Shakespeare's "King Henry IV"] for GLENDOWER. The historical plays are not the group I'm familiar with.
  • [100 aurar] are equivalent to a KRONA in Iceland, land of real geysers.
  • [Southern historical novelist ___ Price] is named EUGENIA.

Mark Milhet created the themeless Los Angeles Times crossword. About 20 of the entries consist of more than one word—everything from the short I-TEN to FILL IN FOR and THE TIMES. URUSHIOL is the [Irritant in poison ivy]. Did you know that 15% to 30% of people don't react to poison ivy? A biologist friend was just telling me that last weekend, and Wikipedia confirms it. THE TIMES is [London paper]; if you like easier sudoku puzzles that have a place to write teeny candidate numbers in the box, check out the Times' online sudoku solver. The Easy and Mild are at least as easy as the NYT's Easy, with Difficult approximating the NYT's Medium, and the Fiendish and Super Fiendish being more manageable than the NYT's difficult because of the teeny number thing. ...if you like that sort of thing. (Crosswords are my love, but I cheat on them with sudoku when the mood strikes.) DRAVIDIAN is a [Language family that includes Tamil]; the Branch Davidian sect in Waco threw me because it wasn't Branch Dravidian. Never heard of the EAGLE RAY, a [Winged ocean denizen]. Is ONE AND ONE a stand-alone phrase meaning [Two parts?]? It seems more like a baseball status or early-season won/lost record. Good to see J CREW clued aptly as a [Polo rival] rather than as an L.L. Bean rival; Polo's closer to that fashion niche. With ON DECK clued in relation to batters in baseball, did you interpret [Tool for bats] as a wood-turning LATHE rather than the correct SONAR for mammalian bats?

The last I checked the publisher chart at Cruciverb.com, the LA Times was paying just $60 for 15x15 puzzles, versus $200 for the New York Times and $136 for the New York Sun. It's scarcely any better than the Tribune Media Services' $50, and slightly lower than USA Today's $65. But you know what? The LA Times puzzles are usually considerably better than the crosswords in those last two publications. That is surely a testament to editor Rich Norris's skills, professionalism, and collegiality. The sort of lousy fill that appears in TMS and the sometimes-incomprehensible editing of clues in USA Today? Rich bars the door to both. Here's hoping the publishing syndicate that set that $60 rate can summon the will to increase it to $100 or more—these are good puzzles by good constructors, and it would be great if the paycheck would reflect that better.

Dan Stark's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" contains some nice words. LEXICON is [Available words] in a language; CLAMORS are [Rackets]; MONIKERS are [Handles]. Those one-word clues are words that have a variety of meanings, and that's the Newsday way—short clues that can be interpreted many ways, only one of which will be correct.

In Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy crossword, "Final Thoughts," the word LAST (66-Across) can go before the first word of the four theme answers: DITCH-DIGGER, MINUTE RICE, DANCE FEVER, and NAME DROPPER yield last-ditch, last-minute, last dance, and last name. I think OTIC is an adjective for ears, not hearing—auditory is the big hearing word. In college, a linguistics professor told us that in a word like goin', nobody has dropped a G. Rather, that distinct ng sound has been replaced by an n sound. So from a strictly technical angle, I'm not sure that ELIDE really goes with [Say "somethin'"], though it's popularly believed to.