September 25, 2008

Friday, 9/26

NYS < 7:59
NYT 6:59
LAT 4:58
CHE 4:31
CS 2:48

WSJ 7:08

(updated at 7:20 p.m. Friday)

All righty, let me get my gripe out of the way. There's a clue in Barry Silk's Friday New York Times crossword that suggests to me that Barry and/or Will Shortz don't bake. The clue for 24-Across is [Ones at home on the range?], and the answer is BAKERS. The American Heritage Dictionary definition of "range" includes one cooking-related noun" A stove with spaces for cooking a number of things at the same time." Baking is done inside the oven, and not on the burners on the stovetop. Sure, they sell appliances called "ranges" that include an oven, but the appliance makers lie like scurrilous dogs, I tell you. They lie! Plus, that first letter of BAKERS crosses [Beat badly], and I got thrown for a loop by considering WASTE and PASTE long before BASTE popped out. (Sigh.) And in case you're wondering, yes, I do feel a little dumb after finally getting that B.

My favorite entries:

  • PIZZA MARGHERITA (yum!) is a [Dish named for the queen consort of Italy's Umberto I].
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., is the NOBEL PEACE PRIZE winner alluded to in [King's honor]. Anyone else try to think of awards given to Billie Jean King and Stephen King?
  • My first thought for [Where moles may try to dig?] is a golf course or garden, but no, it's CIA HEADQUARTERS. So three of the five 15-letter answers contain a Z or Q. Scrabbly goodness!
  • The other 15's are A MAN CALLED HORSE, a [Film about an aristocrat captured by the Sioux], and STATIONARY ORBIT, clued with [An artificial satellite may have one].
  • SIXTEEN is clued with [It's a square], as in 4 squared = 16.
  • VEHEMENT shares a bunch of letters with BEHEMOTH. It's clued as [Very strong].
  • A couple unusual double vowels appear in [Den ___, Nederland] or HAAG, Dutch for "the Hague," and WII, an [Xbox 360 competitor]. 
Other tough clues:
  • [Reversion to an earlier type] is ATAVISM. Who among us has actually spoken this word aloud?
  • [Hamburger's course?] is a weird clue for the ELBE River. Anyone else trying to think of a 4-letter meal course in German? Zuppe, Salat? Nein, dummkopf.
  • ["Friends" who aren't really being helpful] are ENABLERS. Boy, have I got a good enabler story.
  • [Stout] of character is HEROIC.
  • I wanted [Ready for the bad news] to be SITTING DOWN, but only STEELED would fit.
  • [Ithaque, e.g.] is ILE, French for "island," Ithaque presumably being French for Ithaca.
  • [Book concerned with the end of the Babylonian captivity] is EZRA.
  • A kite is a kind of bird, so [Kire flying destination?] is a bird's NEST.
  • [Sluggish tree dweller] screams SLOTH, but the actual answer is KOALA. This spot wasn't helping me with that BAKERS clue.
  • [Like the Colossus of Rhodes] means BRONZE.
  • To [Deconstruct?] a building might be to RAZE it—cute clue.

Daniel Finan's New York Sun crossword, "Buried Treasure," didn't take me as long as the Across Lite timer said. Mid-solve, I leapt up to turn down the volume on the TV receiver, which was momentarily possessed by the home electronics devil and was about to wake the entire neighborhood. The puzzle's got sort of a two-way rebus gimmick to it. The central entry is X MARKS THE SPOT, which explains that where there's an X, it stands in for SPOT—but in one direction, it's still just an X. The X in X MARKS THE SPOT crosses TOSX, or [Lush]—i.e., TOSSPOT with the SPOT buried. The other two theme entries use the X in place of SPOT, but in the Down crossings, the X's are just X's. [Is unjustifiably critical] clues TAKEXSHOTS, or TAKES POTSHOTS. LOX, or [Smoked salmon], intersects here. In the lower half of the grid, the [Character voiced by Estelle Harris in "Toy Story 2"] is presented as MRXATOHEAD, or MRS. POTATO HEAD. She crosses ANOXIA, or [Deficiency of element #8].

If you're wondering why SPA is the answer to [Room in the game Clue], you haven't seen the weeks-old new version of the game. If you're wondering why LEACHES is the answer to [Lixiviates], you probably haven't ever looked up the definition of that clue word. (It was new to me.)

Cute theme, and I think I'm glad there were only three X/SPOT squares because this puzzle took me long enough as it is!


Yikes! I forgot to do the other four crosswords today. On the plus side, my kid and I had a decent day off school, so it's not a total loss. And I can play catch-up now:

Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword puns on phrases by changing parts of them into synonyms for "garb." Nathan's Hot Dogs are digested into NATHAN'S HOT TOGS, or {Wardrobe stolen by actor Lane?]. Close-mouthed becomes CLOTHES-MOUTHED, or [Like Mr. Potato Head with fabric lips?]. This one makes the least sense of the four theme entries. Nuclear threats change a letter to turn into NUCLEAR THREADS, or [Attire for reactor inspectors?]. [Goldbricks in the men's department?] is APPAREL LOAFERS, playing on a pair of loafers. The latter entry isn't much better than the Potato Head lips one, in my opinion. The middle of the grid has fashion house VERSACE, and I daresay that Versace doesn't design any Mr. Potato Head parts. And look! 5-Across is OBAMA, so the Los Angeles Times is in cahoots with the New York Times in favoring OBAMA over MCCAIN, thanks to those three juicy vowels alternating with consonants. (Did you read that Politico article by constructor David Levinson Wilk? It's astonishing that many of the comments on it were of the angry, cynical political variety. People! Try doing crosswords, and you will be let in on the joke.) Anyone know why ORALS is the answer to [They're often evaluated by doctors]? Is it that professors hearing a doctoral candidate's ORALS are themselves holders of doctorates?

Reader Larry mentioned a tricky crossing in Robert Fisher's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Think Again." I think I know which one it is—probably the last square I filled in, the square where I hit every plausible letter on the keyboard, starting in the QWERTY row and working my way down to the M before Mr. Happy Pencil graced my Across Lite screen. You think that might be the one? There are five theme entries—two 15's, two 14's, and a 13—so they really limit the constructor's wiggle room when it comes to finding a workable fill. Here, 31-Down crosses three theme entries, and what fits the M*S*H space? MISCH does. It's clued as [___ metal (alloy used in flint)]. Mischmetal or misch metal gets its name from the German Mischmetall, meaning "mixed metals." I don't know about you, but it would have helped me immeasurably to have (German for "mixed metals") in the clue. The crossing was BARMECIDE FEAST, or [[Lavish meal that isn't really a lavish meal]. Barmecide is an Arabian Nights character who laid out an illusory feast. The other theme entries have the same vibe of something that seems great (or at least real) but really isn't: a FAUSTIAN BARGAIN, PYRRHIC VICTORY, POTEMKIN VILLAGE, and HOBSON'S CHOICE. What's impressive is that aside from the mystery MISCH and the [Monetary unit of Ethiopia], BIRR, the rest of the fill seemed eminently gettable and pretty smooth despite the hefty theme content.

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Bring It!", debunks the liberal-bias-in-crossword-fill theory by making room for [2008 campaigner Mitt] ROMNEY. Congrats, Mitt! You've got a long way to go to catch up with Idi Amin, but so does Barack Obama. I'll bet Idi Amin ranks pretty high among political figures in crossword fill. The theme is simple and the crossword's an easy one, but the fill is smooth and not stale. The theme entries all begin with words that can mean "bring":
  • BEAR WITNESS is clued with [Describe in court what one saw].
  • LUG WRENCH is a [Tool in many a trunk].
  • CARRY NATION was a [Famed hatchet wielder].
  • And a TOTE BOARD is a [Racetrack reference].

Elizabeth Gorski's Wall Street Journal crossword supplements its theme with plenty of long fill in the 8- to 11-letter range. 24-Across is NICE AND EASY, or [Uncomplicated], an apt description of this puzzle. Although the theme is a quip and usually such themes provide little help in solving, many of the words in this quip filled themselves in with the context. The clue provides more guidance than most quote/quip clues do: [...a memo from a CEO who just returned from a 49-Across]. 49-Across is a TIME MANAGEMENT SEMINAR, so it's amusing that the five-part memo is as follows: UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE / I WILL CONTINUE TO HOLD / DAILY EMPLOYEE MEETINGS / UNTIL WE DETERMINE WHY / PRODUCTIVITY IS DOWN. If you're going to make a Sunday-sized quip theme, this is the way to do it: (1) Break it into logical chunks. If one theme entry were TO HOLD DAILY EMPLOYEE, the quip would seem stilted and clumsy, but Gorski's breaks are natural ones. (2) Make sure the crossings are all gettable so there's no deadly square solvers can't fill in. (3) Make sure the punchline is solid. Check; check; check. Is my memory flawed, or does Gorski have a tendency to use longer theme entries in Sunday-sized puzzles than most constructors do? There are just six theme answers, but they account for a respectable 116 squares. (Merl Reagle's the master of including an uncommonly large slew of shorter theme entries. Most of the other constructors seem to hit a middle ground between Liz and Merl.)