September 26, 2008

Saturday, 9/27

Newsday 5:35
NYT 5:02
LAT 4:38
CS 2:39

(updated at 8:40 a.m. Saturday)

We're watching the presidential debate on DVR delay, so even though it has concluded, it's not over in our house yet. But the kid's bedtime allows for a brief blogging break. So—

Karen Tracey's Saturday New York Times crossword fits into the "Karen Tracey Scrabbly themeless" mold quite nicely. The centerpiece is DON QUIXOTE, clued with [Whence the expression "mum's the word"]. Hmm, I don't know about that. Yes, it's right there in Wikiquote, but Don Quixote was written in Spanish, and I don't think "mum" is a Spanish word. Perhaps Zulema or another reader familiar with the original Spanish work can tell us what Cervantes' wording was. Though the clue feels off to me, I do like the Q/X action in the answer itself. Other items of note in the Across direction:

  • [Third Servile War leader] is SPARTACUS. Wow, I have never heard of the Third Servile War. My favorite Spartacus reference in Hank Azaria's character in The Birdcage, Agador Spartacus (as seen in this video).
  • A golfer's [Driving ambition?] is to get a HOLE IN ONE.
  • In New Orleans, a [Hero] sandwich is a poorboy or POBOY. Make mine catfish, please.
  • The [Gaming debut of 1985, briefly] is NES, or Nintendo Entertainment System. Thus, the cross-referenced 14-Down is SYST.
  • [Jam] clues CLOG UP, which is a perfectly natural phrase that looks bizarre in the grid. CLO GUP, anyone?
  • NAZI gets very little play in crosswords. Here it's clued as a ["Hogan's Heroes" figure].
  • [Med. supplier?] is an IV TUBE. 
  • [Chocoholic's dessert] could be a lot of things, no? Here, it's a MUD PIE. That reminds me—I want to snack on those dark chocolate chunks I bought a bag of at Whole Foods today. Bagged chocolate chips aren't just for baking, you know.
  • [Assuaging agents] yields the odd-job answer, EASERS. That word would look better with an extra R, making ERASERS. Same thing lower down—INTESTATE, clued with [Not willful?], could be more accessible with an added R, making INTERSTATE.
  • In the [Courage] zone, STOUTNESS is followed by Bella ABZUG, the [Former congresswoman nicknamed Mother Courage].
  • EARL HINES was [Louis Armstrong's "Weather Bird" collaborator].
  • I couldn't believe how long it took me to piece together DOYLE for [David who played Bosley on TV's "Charlie's Angels"]. Thirty years ago, that would've been a total gimme for me.

Moving along to the Downs now:
  • [Den delivery] is a TIGER CUB. Sure, they're cute, but don't mess with 'em.
  • [Part of a pinball machine] is the COIN BOX. Are they still called that when the machine only takes tokens?
  • [Ancestors from long, long ago] are APEMEN. Grandpa! Is that you?
  • ["The Silence of the Hams" director Greggio] is named EZIO. Who? What? The movie is a horror-movie parody that preceded Scary Movie. It's in English, but also has an Italian title: Il Silenzio dei Prosciutti. It's nice to have a more contemporary EZIO for crossword clues. Mr. Pinza needs to take a break.
  • A river [Bank manager?] is a DIKE. Or not for rivers? Do other bodies of water have banks?
  • A [Supply of arrows] is a QUIVERFUL.
  • Anyone else drop in OKIE for the [Great Depression figure]? The answer is HOBO. A friend's husband launched his academic career with a well-received dissertation on Midwestern hoboes, available as a book. Hobo studies!

When the Friday and Saturday puzzles seem to have been switched—Friday's was harder than this one for me—I always wonder how that comes to pass. Did the test-solvers find this puzzle harder than yesterday's? How much of a difference is there in the difficulty level Will Shortz is targeting for Friday vs. Saturday clues? Do some puzzles just look like they belong on Friday or on Saturday? I'm genuinely curious.


Dan Stark's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" is a 72-worder, but despite the flexibility granted by not chasing a low word count, the fill is rather dry and overly reliant on common word endings. Perhaps the inclusion of 36 7-letter words (vs. 18 7+ words in Karen's puzzle) is a huge restraint? (Themeless constructors, please weigh in.) The -ED past tenses include AROUSED, STORMED, COVETED (clued as an adjective, [In demand]), SPEEDED, CHINNED, ENSURED, and STEAMED. The plurals and -S verbs roll call features CREASES, PESTERS, ENROLLS, GIRDERS, STAMENS, TRIOS, CELTICS (with a Larry Bird clue that could be misinterpreted as being about birds), AURAS, ISMS, PLATS, HELMETS, GENDERS, SOARS, and EDIBLES. Despite the usual Stumper short clues, this puzzle was easier than many Stumpers, perhaps because all the -ED and -S endings provided many toeholds.

Maybe it is Stark's grid that compels the sort of fill associated with low-word-count puzzles. Frederick Healy's LA Times crossword has 14 7+ answers, and jazzier fill. For example, JAZZ IT UP, or [Add oomph to something]. That crosses JACKAL, but not at the J, so that section's got two neighboring J's. And EMBEZZLE, or [Take wrong?], adds another double Z. LARRY Bird makes an appearance in a second puzzle today, clued as [Bird good at shooting?]. The last square I filled in was the P where PILES, or [Foundation parts], meets PIKER, or [Closefisted type]. Anyone else try to get MISER to work there? Regrettably, I must issue a nerd alert. I think the clue for ENTS is wrong. [Literary tree dwellers]? No. Tolkien's ents are "tree-like creatures" and not creatures who live in actual trees.

Favorite answers and clues:
  • VLADIMIR [waited for Godot with Estragon].
  • VOICES are a [Bad thing to hear?]. Are voices a "thing" in the singular?
  • [Natterjacks] would look great in the grid, wouldn't it? It clues TOADS, and I knew the answer only because natterjack has been in crosswords before.
  • STU could be clued as an [Alphabet run], but it's more fun if it's ["The Simpsons" disco guy].
  • [Jenny's mate] is JACKASS. This is, of course, a reference to Love Story.
  • The [Mississippi river to the Mississippi River] is the YAZOO, which is one of the best river names out there. Way zippier than the Elbe or Oder.
  • [Sister or mother] is a NUN and probably not a member of your family.

Randall Hartman's easy CrosSynergy crossword is called "Ham Sandwich" because each theme entry contains the letter string HAM sandwiched inside a longer phrase, such as the FOURTH AMENDMENT or an ALPHA MALE. I think this is the first puzzle I've done since McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate in which PALIN was an answer—and it's clued [Monty Python member Michael]. Perhaps the puzzle was put to bed a month ago when Sarah was a far more obscure PALIN. Slangiest crossing: Where "HEY, MAN" (clued as ["Yo, dude!"] meets RATFINK ([Stool pigeon]). Weirdest-looking answer: theme entry MOCHA MINT, or [Starbucks order]. Maybe that should be mint mocha, hold the HAM.