September 28, 2008

Monday, 9/29

Jonesin' 3:10
NYS 2:50
CS 2:46
LAT 2:39
NYT 2:30

So, I petted some stingrays today at Brookfield Zoo. Do you know what their backs feel like? The answer may surprise you. ...I'll give you three guesses.

The striking Inca tern (that's it in the photo) dwells in the Humboldt penguin exhibit. So now I'm contemplating a lame crossword theme consisting of phrases made of words that are common crossword fill—but I don't know if the Inca tern has much company in that category. If only there were a famous aria about oleo, or an erne native to the Aral Sea.

Another theme idea came to mind today. Add -er to the classic line from All That Jazz and you get "IT'S SHOWER TIME, FOLKS!" Let's see...what else could that theme have? With an added -r, you get "E.T. phone Homer."

After returning from the zoo, I fired up the ol' New York Times crossword applet—and discovered that three people (deadbydawn Doug, Dan Feyer, and the mysterious zachugly) had cracked the 2:00 barrier. Dang! That's fast. So the pressure was on, and I transposed pairs of letters over and over again in my attempt to be super-fast. I believe this easy Monday puzzle marks Sharon Delorme's constructing debut. What makes this puzzle so easy? Each theme entry consists of the same word twice, so once it's half filled in, you can fill in the rest. Actually, each theme entry contains a pair of heteronyms—spelled the same but pronounced differently (thanks to PhillySolver for the reminder that these are called heteronyms):

  • [One who embroiders a waste conduit?] is a SEWER SEWER.
  • [Sketcher of a bureau compartment?] is a DRAWER DRAWER.
  • [Presenter of a bathroom stall?] is a SHOWER SHOWER.
  • [One pulling a tall structure?] is a TOWER TOWER.

I like how this evokes those hard crossword clues in which we're tricked into reading one of these words (or flower) with the wrong pronunciation and meaning—for example, [Prominent tower] for AAA. Speaking of towing, I wonder if TOWIN shouldn't have been clued as TO WIN rather TOW IN, given the TOWER in the theme. It'd probably be a harder clue, though, and it is Monday, after all. I missed seeing the clue [Drug that's smoked in a pipe] as I filled that corner in with the down clues. I wonder how many solvers put in CRACK (marveling that the Gray Lady would put the crack pipe in the crossword puzzle) and mucked things up for themselves, since the answer is the old-school OPIUM.

Mark Feldman's New York Sun crossword may or may not be the final crossword published in that newspaper, which may or may not be facing imminent demise. The "Avian Anatomy" theme groups five phrases that consist of a kind of bird + a part of the body:
  • A [Keen observer] has/is an EAGLE EYE.
  • [Horripilation] is a wonderfully goofy word meaning goosebumps or GOOSEFLESH. The pilation part of the word relates to hair, as does the Sunday NYT answer PILAR.
  • I've never heard of the [Dark red sometimes called Spanish wine] that is PIGEON BLOOD. Not a beverage, fortunately, but a color of rubies. (I hope the jeweler in that link is kidding about killing pigeons while assessing gem color.) This is a term I've never heard before.
  • A [Jimmy Buffett fan] is known as a PARROT HEAD. A couple summers ago, Buffett played a concert at Wrigley Field. The neighborhood was overrun by 50-something people in garish clothing all weekend. It was frightening to behold.
  • A DOVETAIL is a [Certain carpentry joint]. 

This crossword is notable for its unusual wide-open white spaces in what's still a fairly easy crossword. Two corners have heaps of 6-letter answers, and the other two have 7- and 8-letter answers running alongside one another. Thank goodness the [11th-century French saint] THEOBALD has gettable crossings, eh? That answer was assuredly not on the tip of my mental tongue.


Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Middle Distance," hides a small distance (INCH, or 54-Down) inside three theme entries. An [Important media staffer] is the EDITOR IN CHIEF. A [Language spoken around Beijing] is MANDARIN CHINESE. And [The Andes, for instance] are a MOUNTAIN CHAIN. It's Monday, so it's time for a short tutorial on those words that are far better known to regular crossword solvers than to most others. An ITER is a [Road that led to Rome]; I haven't seen this one lately, but it's not just a Latin word for a road, it's also an anatomical passageway. SERE means [Drought-ridden]; ARID is more accessible and I think it appears in more crosswords, but SERE will always return so you need to know it. A [Small river island] is an AIT. The termly is chiefly British, sure, but it does show up in plenty of American crosswords. (The other little-known 3-letter river geography term is ria, a long, narrow coastal inlet.) An IMARET is the [Istanbul inn]; it's more often clued as a Turkish inn or hostel. And a EWER is a [Washstand jug]. Other common clues for EWER include [Water pitcher], [Decorative pitcher], and [Still-life subject]. Commit these oddball words to memory and you'll have a new batch of instant gimmes to help you out with future crosswords.

Samantha Wine's LA Times crossword invites famous people to a "house" party—the five theme entries are people (one fictional) whose last names are roughly synonymous with "house." There's GREGORY HOUSE, of course, the [TV doctor played by Hugh Laurie]. [Nixon's 1960 running mate] was HENRY CABOT LODGE, which sounds like a relatively stodgy place to vacation. MARY KAY PLACE is ["The Big Chill" actress] who played Meg, the single woman who wanted to get pregnant; before that, she had a key role on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. IRENE CASTLE was [Vernon's dancing partner], Vernon being Vernon Castle. Read about Irene here—not only did she and Vernon popularize ballroom dancing (Dancing With the Stars, anyone?) almost a century ago, but they traveled with a black orchestra, promoted animal rights, and had an openly lesbian manager. The last theme entry is PANCHO VILLA, the [20th century Mexican revolutionary]. In the puzzle's fill, my favorite clue was [Work up a sweater] for KNIT.

Updated again:

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "You Can Look It Up," spotlights eight words and phrases (6 to 9 letters in length) added to the Oxford English Dictionary in the past eight decades—one for each decade. I was surprised to learn that BEER PONG, the [Drinking game involving cups and a table tennis ball] dates back to 1972. The MOTORBIKE, or [Lightweight two-wheeled vehicle], was added to the OED back in 1944. The newest word in the theme is SUDOKU, just added in 2004. (SUDOKU sits atop ITUNES, which I thought was quite new, but Apple introduced iTunes back in 2001.) The oddest-looking entry is ZTOA, or Z TO A, clued with [From ___ (how some descending lists are sorted)].