August 21, 2008

Friday, 8/22

NYT 6:58
NYS 6:27
LAT 4:20
CS 3:10

WSJ 6:52

(post updated at 9:19 a.m. Friday)

I know getting three silver medals isn't as good as winning the gold, but wouldn't it have been nice to clue 43-Down in Kevin Der's New York Times crossword as [41-year-old Olympic medalist Dara], in the singular, rather than the plural [Baseball's Joe and others] for TORRES? In a 60-word puzzle, you expect some compromises such as pluralized names, but it was entirely unnecessary in this case. The grid features triple-stacked 15-letter answers at the top and bottom, with INTERLEAGUE PLAY ([All-Star Game, e.g.]) the highlight. Know what else? This grid breaks Manny Nosowsky's 3/11/05 record of 19 black squares by one. Congrats to Kevin on immortalizing himself as Mr. 18, at least until someone manages to make one with 17. This is not the sort of record that solvers generally get exercised about, as most of them won't notice and the black-square count does nothing to enhance a puzzle's entertainment quotient.

The first wrong turn I made in this puzzle came right above that, where I assumed the answer to [It has 33 letters] would end in ALPHABET. Nope, it's the RUSSIAN LANGUAGE...though I think the 33 letters aspect more specifically clues an alphabet. Favorite clues and answers:

  • [Field with bases] is MATH, not baseball.
  • [Setting of the 2007 animated film "Persepolis"] is IRAN. I love this movie! The fact that I have not yet gotten around to seeing it is a minor consideration. The reviews were great...
  • ["You're absolutely right"], 6 letters ending with EED? Surely it's INDEED. What? No? Okay, AGREED.
  • ["Love is reciprocal ___": Marcel Proust] is completed with the word TORTURE. Which book is this from? I don't remember it, but then, I had never been in love back when I read Proust.
  • STEEVE means to [Pack in a ship's hold]. I don't know where I've seen this word before, but I put it right into the crossword. It's got the same Latin root as stevedore.
  • [Men might dress in this] refers to DRAG, of course.

The tradeoffs for the black-square count include the following, which may mystify or irk some solvers:
  • Affixing madness. UNSHUT is [Open], UNSAFER is [Condomless vis-a-vis protected], and a [Plumber's job, maybe] is REPIPING. Stand-alone prefixes here are CENTR- ([Middle: Prefix]) and ENTO ([Inner opening?]). Three -ER odd jobs are IMAGINER or [Idea person], STARER or [Burlesque-goer, typically] (ick), and RADIOER or [Ham, e.g.]. Mind you, I'm not saying these aren't valid entries. I'm just saying they aren't at all zippy.
  • Obscurities. The [New Guinea port] named LAE? I wouldn't be surprised if Kevin Der didn't know that one before he began making this crossword. RIC clued as [Four-year sch. of higher learning in Providence]? Rics Flair and Ocasek would have liked the publicity. COLOSSAE is an [Ancient city to which Paul wrote an Epistle]. OREN [Ishii, character in "Kill Bill"]? Well, I didn't see the movie. IMDb tells me that's Lucy Liu's character, the hyphenated O-Ren Ishii. ALICANTE, the [Spanish city and province on the Mediterranean] sounds like it could be a brand of good salsa. [Rio ___, multinational coal-mining giant] is missing its TINTO.
  • The S in SENTA, [Actress Berger], crosses the first S in SERTS, [Some Rockefeller Center murals]. Are Sert and Senta Berger at all well-known outside of crossword circles? I've encountered them in crosswords, but for all I know, every New Yorker or art historian knows those murals are SERTS.
  • Besides the aforementioned TORRES, there are two other plural names. ENRICOS is clued as ["Lucia de Lammermoor" lord and namesakes], and NUNNS are [Ex-senator Sam of Georgia and others].

Karen Tracey's New York Sun "Weekend Warrior," on the other hand, contains 70 words and 28 black squares. It breaks no records and wins no prizes other than smiles. It's got a few weird answers, but four of the five long answers were captivating:
  • WEIRD AL YANKOVIC is the [Singer of "Like a Surgeon" (with the lyric "I can hear your heart beat for the very last time")]. It's Weird Al's parody of Madonna's "Like a Virgin," of course.
  • [#1 hit of 1999] is LIVIN' LA VIDA LOCA. That song was performed by Ricky Martin, who just became a father to twins. Not to worry, gay Ricky fans—the twins were carried by a gestational surrogate, so Ricky doesn't seem to have settled down with a woman.
  • [Ruthless group since 1935?] refers to the team that traded (?) Babe Ruth, nicknamed THE BRONX BOMBERS. Them's the Yankees, right? The NXB pile-up in the middle is delicious.
  • Those 15s and ON GOOD AUTHORITY are linked by the vertical YVETTE MIMIEUX, whose name is fun to spell.

Favorite clues and entries:
  • [Varlets] is a tasty, tasty word, delightfully archaic. It means RASCALS.
  • A [British-style crossword constructor] is often called a SETTER.
  • I don't know the [1977 Paul Davis hit] "I GO CRAZY." I do like Prince's "Let's Go Crazy," though. It's probably better, in fact—more collegial.
  • [Popular game show of the '70s and '80s, familiarly] is PYRAMID. When I had the [Worthless loafer?] as an OLD SHOE rather than an ODD SHOE (...odd entry), that PYRAMID was hard to find.
  • [Present time, for short] doesn't mean it's in the present tense—it means "time for presents." I had to run through the whole alphabet (...starting with the QWERTY row of the keyboard, alas) to get that B, even though I spent the day celebrating my cousin's birthday. The B crossed BLOTS, or [Vulnerable backgammon pieces], and I swear I never learned that term when I learned backgammon.
  • Geographic trivia! DESERET, later called Utah, was a [Proposed state of 1849 that was not granted admission to the Union].
  • [Where the Beavers play] is at CAL TECH. Are they Mathletes?
  • COL., short for colonel, is clued as [Mustard, e.g.: Abbr.]. This is from the game of Clue. But guess what? The game is being retooled this fall and he's turning into Jack Mustard, ex-football player. Professor Plum will be video game designer Victor Plum. It's so wrong. (Hat tip to Joe Cabrera for the newsflash.)
  • [Beth alternative] isn't about Hebrew letters. It's LIZA, another possible nickname derived from "Elizabeth."
  • [One fifth of zwanzig] is VIER. See the cognate? Zwanzig is twenty. (VIER is German for four.)

The weirdest answer was GRIPPY, or [Afflicted with the flu]—this is the adjectival form of grippe, the old-fashioned word for influenza. Note the etymology: related to claw and seize. If you've had the flu, you've been in the grips of its cruel talons.

We've got DVRed Olympics on the TV right now. In the 110m hurdles, a Cuban runner won the gold medal, with Americans taking the silver and bronze. The two Americans exulted together, and the silver medalist said to the camera: "We're number one! Number one!" That's a...healthy self-regard. Rather a loose grasp on reality, but definitely a healthy self-regard.


Harvey Estes' Wall Street Journal crossword, "Alternative Rock," is pretty easy. The five theme entries are phrases that end with STONE, only that word has been anagrammed into another word and the resulting phrase is clued accordingly.
  • [Pretty valuable jackets?] are SEMIPRECIOUS ETONS. Yes, nobody talks about Eton jackets outside of crosswords and probably Eton, but it's semiprecious crosswordese we all should know by now.
  • [Sounds of singers warming up?] are SHARPENING TONES.
  • [Dance instruction?] is STEPPING NOTES.
  • [Beginning of cajolery?] is THE BLARNEY ONSET.
  • [How to shoot dice in the office pool?] is LIKE A ROLLING STENO. As with ETONS, STENO is one of those crosswordy words we see too often—but here, they're improved by being anagrams in the higher service of the theme. Repurposing of regular boring crossword denizens into some sort of grander payoff is the wages of the sin of doing too many crossword puzzles.
The puzzle's got a fair number of colloquial-language entries—"YOU'RE ON," and...well, I can't find the others. But I swear they were there. My favorite pairing was [Word shouted at church] for AMEN...and then the next section over, the same clue also meant BINGO.

The theme in Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword may be hard to describe clearly. The theme entries are people's names altered my appending the first letter of the last name to the end of the first name, which might be hard to hear when spoken aloud but changes the spelling of the first name, as name + an L sound creates a homophonic word. Clear as mud, right? Examples will work better:
  • [Fleece a comic legend?] is BILK COSBY (Bill).
  • [Holding up a "Head of the Class" actress?] is ROBBING GIVENS (Robin).
  • [Incarcerate a TV host?] is JAIL LENO (Jay).
  • [Shoot a golfer?] is FILM MICKELSON (Phil). This one's my favorite, as the PH/F swap threw me for a loop.
  • [Follow a "Spanglish" costar?] is TAIL LEONI (Tea).
Other clues and entries of note:
  • [Region of Ghana] is ASHANTI.
  • A [Dilapidated craft] is a RUSTBUCKET. 
  • MRS. C, or [Richie's mom, to the Fonz], crosses MR. BIG, or [Head of the class]. 
  • [___ X] mystified me for too long—it's MALCOLM. 
  • In the same corner, we get noises: HEEHEE, the [Munchkinlike laugh], crossing SCREECH, or [Collision preceder].

Tom Schier's CrosSynergy crossword, "Red Alert," gathers together various red things in the clues for the three 15-letter theme answers. [Reds and Red Sox] are BASEBALL PLAYERS. [Red-eye] is an OVERNIGHT FLIGHT. And [Redcoats] were BRITISH SOLDIERS. One clue kept me wondering for a while—regular crossword denizen ONER was clued [Nonesuch]. That's "a person or thing that is regarded as perfect or excellent." Those Olympic Games, they sure had a lot of oners! I wonder if anyone thinks a PAPAW, or [Custard apple], is a oner.