July 31, 2008

Friday, 8/1

NYS 5:43
NYT 4:24
CHE 4:07
LAT 4:04
CS 3:21

WSJ 7:58

(post updated at 12:30 Friday afternoon)

It's always a treat to have a crossword by Patrick B., isn't it? Yeah, you know who I'm talking about: Patrick Berry. Or Patrick Blindauer. Heck, why not both? That's what we've got on hand tonight, a Sun puzzle by Mr. Blindauer and an NYT from Mr. Berry.

Patrick Berry's New York Times puzzle is a 66-word themeless creation. He has set the bar high for himself with his past work, and as usual he rises to the occasion with a silky smooth crossword. It's almost three crosswords in one, with the northwest and southeast corners almost walled off from the diagonal center zone. In no particular order, my favorite clues and answers:

  • [Like singing in a shower] is the clue for A CAPPELLA. I don't know about the rest of you, but I often bring at least a guitarist into the shower to accompany my singing.
  • I don't usually care for U-BOAT ([Ship sinker]) and A-BOMBS ([W.W. II enders, for short]) in a crossword, but they work better when they intersect each other.
  • [Unwilling to get organized] is ANTI-UNION and has nothing to do with the volume of clutter on my desk. Labor activist Silkwood]'s first name was KAREN.
  • The CRIMEAN [War ("Charge of the Light Brigade" conflict)] is a Tennyson-reading English major's gimme. I knew someone who went to the Crimea for the Peace Corps.
  • Oh! The NORWEGIAN BLUE parrot, [Fictional parrot type featured in Monty Python's "dead parrot sketch"]. Watch the sketch here.
  • [Some swings in a ring] are LEFTS, as in boxing punches with the left hand.
  • The BURRO is a [Pack animal], while the CAMEL gets a question mark in [Pack animal?]. Why? I'm guessing it's the Camel cigarettes camel.
  • WATER BALLOONS—[They often make a splash]. Can you explain why I started out with TRIAL BALLOONS?
  • The OPEN BAR is [Where to find free spirits].
  • HONEST ABE was an [1860 campaign nickname].
  • [Around the witching hour] means LATE NIGHT.
  • [Snapper, of a sort] is a CENTER. I think this has to do with football.
Other clues of note:
  • [It might make you red in the face] is ACNE. Not sure why this clue, with "red," crosses BEET RED.
  • [Plato and Aristotle, e.g.] are ANCIENTS.
  • The Elmer's website claims that the [Elmer's product] called GLUE-ALL is "America's favorite all-purpose glue." Do you have any? I sure don't.
  • [Dextrose] is CORN SUGAR.
  • [The M-1, for one] is a CARBINE. Why did I get this right away?
  • Anything [Dealing with honey makers], or bees, is APIAN.

Patrick Blindauer's New York Sun crossword is entitled "Twenty Question Marks." There are three question marks in the grid itself, where pairs of questions cross, and I counted 16 question-marked clues. That makes 19. I don't know if it's correct or not, but mentally I've added a question mark to one of my favorite clues, [Place to get sheets for a song], to get a 20th question mark. (The answer has nothing to do with sheet music—rather, it's a WHITE SALE where you can buy bedsheets for a good price.) Oh! Wait! There it is! It's the big question mark made out of black squares in the center of this asymmetrical 15x16 grid. Wow, there's a lot to talk about with this puzzle. Let's take it paragraphically:

The asymmetry— This crossword is asymmetrical for a good reason: The black question mark isn't a symmetrical beast, and it's a key element of the theme. It doesn't, I find, affect the solving experience one whit to have the grid deviate from symmetry rules.

The theme— The theme includes six questions in the grid, 16 question-marked tricky clues, and that big graphical element. The theme entries are "WHO'S ON FIRST?" crossing "SO?" (Hey, a 2-letter word! Those aren't permitted in standard crossword rules), "WHERE AM I?" crossing "WHEN?", and "WHAT?" crossing "IT IS?". Why and how don't get their moment in the sun.

The fill— Lots of long answers, good 'n' zippy. My favorites are X-RAY VISION, MCGRUFF the Crime Dog, WRITING, KEN STARR beside DULCINEA, ASKS OUT, crossword habituĂ© ANI DIFRANCO's full name, ADAM ANT (the [Musician with the real name Stuart Goddard], not the adjective adamant), a FRAME HOUSE, GENII with that oddball ending double-I, and a SEVEN-IRON (which I didn't know could be called a [Pitcher]). Seeing SODOR, the [Island home of Thomas the Tank Engine], amused me. I wonder if Patrick included that or if Peter Gordon, dad to young kids, rejiggered the fill and added that.

The clues— With all those twisty question-marked clues, you know I enjoyed this puzzle. (I also enjoyed Bonnie Gentry's puzzle, in one of the Simon & Schuster books a year or two ago, in which every clue had a question mark. Anyone know which volume that's in?) My favorites include [Novel activity?] for WRITING; [Short vehicle of the 1980s, for short] for SNL (a vehicle for Martin Short, not a short car); [Small character in Oz?] for the letter ZEE in the word "Oz"; [Bottled spirits?] for GENII in a puzzle that also has bathtub GIN; and [Grind] for WONK, both being roughly synonymous with "studious nerd."


All right, I've got about an hour to solve four puzzles and blog 'em, so I'm going bare-bones here.

The CrosSynergy puzzle, "Final Score," is by Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke. The theme entries end with thingamajigs that may be found on a printed musical score (forgive me if my musical terminology is amiss):
  • [Fiction that's thinly veiled reality] is a ROMAN A CLEF.
  • A [Company's representatives] are its SALES STAFF.
  • [At-ease position for soldiers] is PARADE REST. Not a term I'm hep to.
  • [Kidnapper's missive] is a RANSOM NOTE.

Plenty of terrific fill: BEAM ME UP, ARIZONAN, MOS DEF, AL FRESCO, QUALMS.

Dan Naddor's Los Angeles Times puzzle has an insert-OB theme:
  • [Maintain surveillance of a feudal manor?] is OBSERVE THE LORD.
  • [Source of J.M. Smucker's success?] is a JAM OB SESSION.
  • [Admonition to a square?] is DON'T BE OBLONG.
  • [Foul-mouthed thief?] is an OBSCENE STEALER.
Clues of note:
  • [Board runner] for CHAIR, as in chairperson of the board.
  • [Score adverb] for MOLTO. Musical terminology! Always slows me down.
  • [Support group?] is BRAS, though I don't generally think of bras as traveling in groups.
  • [Zoological openings] are ORA, or mouths.
  • {Arthurian adulteress] is ISOLDE. I can't believe this ISOLDE reference is out there and I don't know it. Is Tristan there too, or is this a different Isolde?
  • [Tishby of "The Island"] is NOA. Hmm, that's pretty obscure. Her role was "community announcer." That doesn't sound like a lead part.
  • [Checked for the last itme?] is MATED in chess.
  • [Speakers' receptions?] are the HONORARIA, or the payments they receive.
  • [Helen Keller et al.] are ALABAMANS. I learned this from the Alabama quarter coin.

Todd McClary's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Campus Quads," works really well even without its gimmick, as just a good crossword with that trademark Chronicle erudition in the fill and clues. Plus: a TWIX bar. Nummy! I haven't had lunch yet, and now I want candy. The two long theme entries say that hidden within the finished grid are SIX UNIVERSITIES in TWO-BY-TWO SQUARES. I know of YALE and DUKE and RICE, of course, and PACE. ELON is a crosswordese school. I have never heard of LYNN University, though. It's got four letters, so it makes the grade here. That sly bastard McClary managed to place these clockwise-reading school names in exactly symmetrical spots in the grid, which definitely elevates the elegance of the gimmick. I'm wondering if he's got a Yale connection, because ELIS crosses the YALE box.

Favorite fill and clues:
  • [It may divide on a slide] for AMEBA.
  • WATERBUS! If only WATERBUG had fit.
  • [Danish relative] is the pastry called a BEARCLAW. (Still hungry.)
  • [They're used to make calls] clues BUGLES. Ha!
  • [South African leader Thabo] MBEKI's name looks great in the grid.
  • [River near Mohenjo Daro] is the INDUS. Mohenjo who? What? I will give a virtual dollar to anyone who's heard of Mohenjo Daro
  • A WIDOW is an [Orphan's kin, in typesetting]. These are words or ends of paragraphs that get shunted to the next page, something along those lines.
  • ANEW is clued as [From square one], though SQUARES is in a theme entry. Can we get a list of which crossword editors still care about such duplications, and which ones feel that it's no big deal? Because really, it should be no big deal.
  • [Molting, to biologists] is ECDYSIS. Stripping for bugs!

Tracey Snyder's Wall Street Journal puzzle, "Long Time No See," docks an initial letter C from one word in each theme entry. [Commands to a dog?], for example, are POINT AND LICK (click), and [Classes for would-be dermatologists?] are RASH COURSES (crash courses). I like a lot of the other theme entries, too—COME IN OUT OF THE OLD is the [Fountain of Youth slogan?], the ODE OF SILENCE (code), FIRST ON TACT (contact), PREGNANCY RAVINGS (cravings).

I'm out of time for blogging now. Enjoy your afternoon!