August 22, 2008

Saturday, 8/23

Newsday 6:52
NYT 5:52
LAT 4:45
CS 3:25

(post updated at noon Saturday; Thursday post also updated late with Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy puzzle)

A Saturday New York Times puzzle, constructed by Natan Last, with 70 words and 30 black squares—this puppy breaks no records at all. But a handful of the entries were straight-up fun to uncover, and MR. MIYAGI brought a smile to my face. (His clue: [Film character who says "I promise teach karate. That my part. You promise learn"].) A sweet little hit of '80s pop culture will generally give me the warm fuzzies towards a crossword. There were other terrific entries, and the clues amused me too. My favorite ingredients:

  • Two successive [Thanksgiving dishes], YAMS and china gravy BOATS, put turkey on my mind. So [Turkey tender?] had to have something to do with Thanksgiving, right? Wrong. That's LIRAS, the legal tender in the country, Turkey.
  • [Do or die] happens to clue VERB here. But you can attend a fancy do and you can roll or cast a die, so NOUN would also fit the space. I've seen enough of these Saturday "___ or ___" clues that want you to identify the part of speech rather than treating the clue as an actual phrase, so I didn't think about what "do or die" means.
  • [Hiiumaa Island belongs to it] clues ESTONIA. Crazy geography! Estonia and Finland have stolen many of the vowels missing from Czech, Polish, and other Slavic words.
  • Albus DUMBLEDORE is J.K. Rowling's [Headmaster of literature]. As far as made-up character names go, this one's lovely.
  • A [Minor modification] is a TWEAK. Fun word to say; might be clued in a drug context in an Onion, Tausig, or Jonesin' puzzle.
  • The ol' SWITCHEROO is an [Underhanded change, slangily]. Has anyone ever pulled the ol' switcheroo at a HOOTENANNY, or [Folkies' do]?
  • In an odd change-up, the partial IN A is clued with a cross-reference to three different entries—it can be a [Preceder of 46-, 59- or 61-Across], which are a JAM, RAGE, and SNIT.
  • [Play an ace?] means to AVIATE, playing at being an air ace. This one's not cross-referenced to [Her idea may be taking off], cluing an AIRWOMAN. It appears that the Brits use this term, but the U.S. Air Force uses Airman as a unisex term.
  • IVY is [What often grows attached]. I rip it off the bricks when it climbs towards my windows.
  • QB SNEAKS looks great in the puzzle. They're [Plays after some snaps, in brief]. I have no idea if people call 'em QB sneaks vs. quarterback sneaks.
  • [Average guy?] is DOW, as in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
  • AUTOMATA is a plural of automaton. [They work by themselves].
  • THE WHO! My husband's all-time favorite band, coincidentally heard on a Nissan commercial at the very moment I was asking my husband who his favorite band was. Clued as [Preceder of Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock].
  • MOSEYS? I love to mosey. Clued as [Moves with no urgency]. Indeed!
  • Lindsey LOHAN was the [Star of "Herbie: Fully Loaded," 2005]. I saw it on TV with my kid. This may have been the last movie she shot before becoming a serial rehabber.
  • One who sings a few [Bars without other people?] sings SOLOS.

I needed a lot of crossings to figure out the [Oil-based paste mentioned in the lyrics to "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds"]. I knew it was something-INE, but not that it was PLASTICINE. The lyric is given as "Plasticine porters with looking glass ties." What? Ties? Not eyes? Sighs. Another answer that sort of rhymes with PLASTICINE is JOLENE, a [#1 country hit for Dolly Parton]—for this one, I needed all the crossings. The [Existential musing] "WHY AM I HERE?" asks the self-referential question. Why is that phrase there? Is this an "in-the-language" phrase that's perfect crossword fodder, or a contrived phrase? I rather think it's the former.

In sum: Fun puzzle with a lively pop-culture vibe. I think Will Shortz got his days mixed up, though, because yesterday's Kevin Der record-breaker felt a good bit tougher than this one.


Brad Wilber's themeless LA Times crossword has many cool entries:
  • A.A. Milne's NOW WE ARE SIX, with that double W, is clued as [Book including the poems "Binker" and "Pinkle Purr"].
  • TIPTOED looks weird when it's partially filled in—how many words include all or part of the PTOE letter sequence? Clued as [Went quietly].
  • With no space between the words in the grid, TV ANTENNA, looks like some sort of Russian name. It's a [Reception aid].
  • [One might wait in front of a church] clues STRETCH LIMO.
  • SOBA NOODLES are [Traditional Japanese New Year's Eve fare].
  • ANIMAL HOUSE was [Kevin Bacon's film debut].
  • The phrase "I'M OVER IT" is [Words of acceptance, ostensibly].
Is it just me, or was this one a good bit easier than most of Wilber's themeless puzzles?

Dan Stark's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" is again a bit tougher than the day's other themelesses. Is it just me, or has Stan Newman stepped up the difficulty level in the Stumper? It's been a while since I had cause to blog about the disconnect between the "Stumper" name and an easy puzzle. In this one, the last quadrant I filled in was the upper left. It all looks so reasonable now, sure, but mid-solve, these answers were hiding from me:
  • [Adding-machine inventor] was PASCAL. I half-considered EDISON before his TAE initials showed up as [Inventive initials].
  • [Inhospitable place] is SIBERIA. I was thinking much smaller, like a sauna (I don't much enjoy the heat), rather than a place that's 5.1 million square miles. I like that SIBERIA works less literally, too.
  • For [Bill padding], I was stuck on a restaurant or service bill rather than a legislative one, so I was thinking along the lines of FEES instead of PORK.
  • [Metallic joint], ending in W? SCREW, of course! Er, no. ELBOW joint. A screw joins things together, but not as a joint.
  • [Flask flaw] is a PINHOLE. I had nowhere I was trying to go with this one. I had glass flasks in mind, not metal ones that might get pinholes in them.
  • [Takes in] is ABSORBS. I started with FOSTERS, as in taking in a foster child. So wrong.
Did you know the [World's most common place name] is SAN JOSE? I recall a bar trivia question along these lines, and my team figured it had to be something reflecting the old British Empire, like Victoria. I don't remember if San José was given as the correct answer—they had some crazy wrongnesses sometimes.

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle is called "Where's the Fire?" because the four theme entries end with words that can follow the word fire:
  • [Structure for spawning salmon] is a FISH LADDER, and there's such a thing as a fire ladder.
  • [Sacks] means GIVES THE AX; fire ax.
  • [Stockings that compress the legs] are SUPPORT HOSE; fire hose.
  • [Kills time on-line] is SURFS THE NET; fire net.
In the fill, [Goes from tavern to tavern] is BARHOPS. Did you ever notice that barhop and carhop are just one letter off?