September 13, 2008

Sunday, 9/14

NYT 13:03
BG 10:27
PI 8:35
LAT 7:55
CS—see 9/12 post

(updated at 1:25 p.m. Sunday)

Yow! Jeremy Newton's Sunday New York Times crossword, "Year-Round," was hard. I can't say it was fun, but it was definitely a challenge...and it will likely bring many stumped solvers to crossword blogs when they cry "uncle" and turn to Uncle Google. There's no theme, per se, just a rebus gimmick—there's a circle of rebus squares that contain abbreviations for the months of the year. The only hint a solver has about which entries have rebuses is having enough of them filled in to see that the rebus squares appear in symmetrical spots, and that the months are in order clockwise from 11:00.

The clues were sometimes inscrutable. The January rebus appears at the junction of these two:
• [Native tongue of R&B singer Rihanna] is BAJAN. Bajan is "an English-based creole language spoken by persons on the West Indian island of Barbados."
• [Paris was part of it] refers to the TROJAN ARMY. Not Paris, France. Not Paris Hilton. Not Paris, Texas.

Right there, I think many solvers might cry foul/uncle. If you're not a linguist or a big Rihanna fan, do you know anything about Bajan? I sure didn't. Moving to February:
• [It's darn likely] refers to a SAFE BET. No, it's not trying to make you think of darning holes in socks.
• [Possible punishment for steroid use] is a LIFE BAN.

If you're lucky, you cottoned to the rebus there, figuring that SA*ET and LI*AN couldn't possibly make words with a single letter in their intersection. The month of March is here:
• [Wise guy] is a SMARTY. Alec and guru and sage are all 4 letters long, which may have mucked things up for a lot of folks.
• [Mustang rivals] sounded like college football to me. Is that SMU? What's another Texas team? Well, no. Wrong turn. The Ford Mustang's rivals include Chevy CAMAROS. Do they still make Camaros?

April was a little easier for me, as the pattern was beginning to reveal itself:
• [Genre explored by Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith] is RAP-ROCK. A rather old-school clue for the genre, no?
• [Lucratively] means AT A PROFIT.

The merry month of May is here, unabbreviated:
• [Cancun resident, once] is an ANCIENT MAYAN.
• ["Quite possibly"] sounds a little more certain than IT MAY BE.

Moving along to June:
• [Thrill seeker] is an ADRENALINE JUNKIE. Terrific entry in and of itself.
• [Like some professors] is ADJUNCT.

Things heat up in July:
• [Drinks in frosted glasses] are MINT JULEPS.
• [Samuel L. Jackson's character in "Pulp Fiction"] is named JULES. Royale with cheese, anyone?

The dog days of August nearly defeated me, since DRAFT fits into five squares perfectly, as does its alternate spelling with a 3-letter rebus. Why wasn't I looking for somewhere to put AUG? It's my birthday month and everything. Drat!
• [Beer serving in a pub] is a DRAUGHT. I guess "pub" is supposed to signal Britain and a more typically British spelling...but we have plenty of pubs in America, too.
• [Filled (with)] is incredibly vague, and FRAUGHT more commonly has that sense of anxiety that plain old "filling" lacks.

September means it's back-to-school time. Are you feeling a bit like you're in the wrong class?
• [Nativity figure] is JOSEPH.
• [Wages, before overtime] is BASE PAY.

Above that SEP was HACK, clued as [Symptom of catarrh]. Who uses "hack" as a noun when referring to a hacking cough or hacking up phlegm? Next to a rebus square, a more approachable clue was called for. October adds a gnarly scientific word:
• [Boils down] clues DECOCTS. Not only is it a scientific sort of word, my dictionary labels it "archaic."
• [Professional with many contacts?] is an EYE DOCTOR. Fun clue! However, a straight clue would have been kinder, what with the DECOCTS crossing.

Are you waiting for the new year because this year has been too long? November arrives:
• [Cry at sea] is MAN OVERBOARD.
• [Pop singer who appeared in the movie "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"] is DONOVAN.

The twelfth month of the year is December:
• [Experts at exports] are TRADE COMMISSIONS. Hey! That's not a fun phrase at all. Adrenaline junkies, where are you? We need you here.
• [Biker's add-on] is a SIDECAR.

Let me get this stuff posted, and I'll be back after supper with more on the non-rebus fill. Okay, I'm back. Here are other clues and answers that made this puzzle a bit of a gnarly beast:

  • [Singer who once said "At least I had one guy who understood me"] is YOKO ONO. Did you know she's on Facebook? She's listed as a friend of someone affiliated with Wordplay. I'll bet her Facebook status updates are deep.
  • [Diurnally] equates to A DAY in a sentence like...wait, does it equate? The only sentences I can come up with swap "diurnally" for "once a day" or "each day."
  • Two clues point rather obliquely at words meaning "huge": [Economy-size] is GIANT and [Worth mentioning] is BIG. BIG appears right near a rebus square, its clue making that zone a bit more difficult.
  • [Pattern for light or sound] is a SINE WAVE. This one's between the OCT and NOV rebuses, and perhaps a more specific clue would have been helpful here.
  • [It appears when things go bad] is MOLD on your spoiled food. I like this one. Not the mold—the clue.
  • [Some exams for joint pain sufferers] are BONE SCANS.
  • [Focused (on)] is DWELT. Maybe an addendum to the clue would have helped, such as [Focused (on), as a ____], whatever it is that one dwells on filling the blank.
  • [Were present?] clues ARE, the present tense for the past tense "were." I like that. (Elsewhere in the puzzle, WAS is clued [Is past?].)
  • [It's usually said with the eyes closed] is ACHOO. Uncle foul! First, it's in a rebus zone and doesn't need to make that area more difficult. Second, if you're sneezing, you are not saying achoo. You're emitting a sound, which may or may not sound like "achoo," but you're not saying anything. Betcha $5 that a lot of people opted for something like GRACE here. Right below ACHOO is MOTOR, clued as [Kind of skill]. No, no, no. MOTOR is not a skill. "Motor skills" are a kind of skills. Again, an unimpeachable and accessible clue would have been a kindness to solvers.
  • A [Wig] from a few centuries ago is a PERUKE. I love the word, but suspect it's not universally known or beloved.
And those were just the Acrosses! In the Down direction, we have these items to note:
  • [Basic travel path] is A TO B. All the other ATOB clues in the NYT have been easier. Crossing BA[JAN], this clue is borderline cruel.
  • [Unlikely event for Puritans] is an ORGY. That one's not so hard—I just wanted to include it in my post. If the Puritan folks are modern-day members of the GOP, the clue may be inaccurate. (Kidding! Or am I?) Right next to the ORGY is MOM ([MADD member]). "Mom? What are you doing here?"
  • [Like some modern maps] put me in mind of GPS systems and the splendor that is Google Maps, but that's the wrong path. The answer is GENOMIC.
  • [Members of the bar?] clues SOTS. I think I've seen that clue before, and I don't care for it. Heavy drinkers are not "members" of a tavern.
  • [Early Chinese dynasty] came to me only through the crossings: WEI. ("No way!" "Wei!")
  • [Admit defeat, in a way] is PUNT. Is this football or metaphor?
  • [Euripides drama] is ION. Wait, wait, wait. It's a common science term, the name of a Saturn car, the name of a new TV channel, the first name of post-Communist Romanian president Ion Iliescu—and this tough puzzle tosses us one of Euripides' lesser-known plays? Ow.
  • [Lookout, maybe] is ABETTOR, but it could also be spelled ABETTER. The decisive crossing is the aforementioned ACHOO.
  • [Now, in Nogales] is the Spanish word AHORA. Have you seen any Spanish-language ads exhorting "Llame ahora"? That's "call now."
  • [Genealogical grp.] offered little help in the ACHOO zone—it's FAM. as an abbreviation for "family." 

So, how'd you enjoy your journey through this puzzle?


You know what? Expectations have a lot to do with enjoyment. If Will Shortz promised us one Sunday puzzle a month that was tougher than the others, I would look forward to it and say "Hooray!" when it appeared. When it's only a rare crossword that's a difficulty outlier, I'm not expecting it and that can throw of my enjoyment-o-meter. The placement of 12 rebus squares in exactly symmetrical spots is an impressive accomplishment indeed, and the added limitation of putting the months in order surely made this one a bear for Jeremy Newton to construct. That said, there wasn't any inherent humor in the theme, so while I appreciate the solving challenge and intricacy of the construction, it wasn't really a funny crossword.

I had more fun with Matt Gaffney's latest contest crossword. The weekly/self-published nature of the contest allows Matt to be more topical and timely than other daily or weekly crosswords. Alas, I have not yet been the randomly chosen correct entrant who wins the signed book. Hey, that's OK. I already have a signed Matt Gaffney book as well as two or three others unsigned.

This week's Merl Reagle crossword, in the Philadelphia Inquirer and other papers, called "Initial Investigation," focuses on an unusual theme: 5-word phrases whose initials form a 5-letter word, with both the phrase and the initials word clued.
  • [What often goes untold / Starting gaits?] clues THE REST OF THE STORY and TROTS.
  • [Free-drink line / Cap's place] clues THIS ONE'S ON THE HOUSE and TOOTH.
  • [Arlen-Mercer classic / Water hazards?] clues COME RAIN OR COME SHINE and CROCS. Crikey, did you know Chicago has had 6+ inches of rain this weekend? I think a front is churning in place and dumping lots of rain. For the first time in my memory, the Chicago River has crested.
  • ["Explain, please" / Aromatic oils] clues BE A LITTLE MORE SPECIFIC and BALMS.
  • [1999 Pierce Brosnan film / A familiar cord?] clues THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH and TWINE.
  • ["Oh, great!" / Corrupt] clues THAT'S ALL I NEED TODAY and TAINT.
  • ["This is as far as I go, kiddo" / Dingbats] clues YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN, SON and YOYOS.
Hmm. I don't know how long it would take me to generate a comparable list of phrases that yield initial words. WTF isn't a word. AFAIK (as far as I know) is a fairly common online abbreviation, but it's not a word either. How on earth did you come up with these theme entries, Merl? I want to know.

Newish constructor John Lampkin's syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword is called "Feature Features" because each of the eight theme entries is a phrase that ends with a word that relates to movie-making. The clues use movie titles to recast the phrase as if it pertains to that particular movie. To wit:
  • UNSPEAKABLE ACTS are [Segments of "Silent Movie"?].
  • MATCHING SET is a ["When Harry Met Sally..." studio construction] because romantic matching occurs in that movie and is depicted on the set.
  • A LITTLE EXTRA is a [Munchkin in "The Wizard of Oz"?]. My mom's friend Anne's parents were little people, and they knew many of the people who were, in fact, extras playing Munchkins in that movie.
  • BILLIARDS CUE is clued as [Prompt in "The Hustler"?], a movie about shooting pool.
  • DOUBLE TAKES could be [Footage from "Twins"?]...although in that movie, the "twins" in question were not at all doubles. Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger? Not doubles.
  • BASKETBALL SCORE is [Music for "Hoosiers"?].
  • FISHING LINES is clued as [Dialogue from "A River Runs Through It"?]. Brad Pitt fly-fishing, photographed with loving attention by Robert Redford as if he were the second coming of Redford. He was very golden and radiant in this movie.
  • CEMETERY PLOT is a [Storyboard for "Poltergeist"?]. Did a cemetery figure into that movie? I don't remember one.
I like this theme. The oddest bit of fill is HERM, a [Four-sided monument named for a Greek god]. Wikipedia uses herma as the singular. Gotta love a square pillar with a head on top and the, uh, frank and beans carved on one side. [Contest in a dohyo] is SUMO; perhaps dojo and dohyo are cognates. [Canine neighbor] is the PREMOLAR; yay, dental terminology! [Stirrup problems?] is the clue for EARACHE, but I don't know that the tiny stirrup bone is at all involved in any earache. Those have more to do with the eardrum, the Eustachian tube, fluid, and pressure. [Beef] is CARP and [Per ___] clues DIEM—look at those words divided by a black square in the grid. It's like a secret subliminal message, "Carpe diem." My favorite clue is [Holy smoke] for INCENSE. Favorite fill: THE DISHES, [Something to do after eating].

I heard through the grapevine that Elizabeth Gorski was filling in for Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon for a few weeks of Sunday Boston Globe crosswords. Can you Bostonians confirm? The Across Lite edition of these puzzles is weeks behind, so I haven't seen Liz's byline there yet. Speaking of Liz Gorski, it's time for more of her puzzles in the New York Times! A few years ago (2003), she had more than 20 NYTs in a single year, and we've only had five this year. Will Shortz, are you holding out on us? Give the people what they want!

This week's Boston Globe crossword in Across Lite is by Henry Hook. I don't know about you, but I kept making very reasonable choices that turned out to be wrong. Is my Hook mojo on vacation, or was this one rather tough? "Tie-ins" is a straightforward enough theme—TIE is inserted into various phrases, which are clued accordingly. For example, [Sleepwear designer's task?] is DRAWING NIGHTIE. The results can be droll: My favorite theme entries were CAPRI PATIENTS, or [Some who seek out il dottore?]; FORTIETH COMING, or [Dreaded realization to a 39-year-old?]; and HONG KONG FLUTIE, or [Asian quarterback?]. That last one's perfect for a Boston newspaper, as Doug Flutie was a hotshot college player there.

This puzzle has plenty of excellent fill—EXORCISM and JACLYN Smith, YAMMERS and KHAKIS, MADCAP and a yummy BANANA SPLIT. Not to mention ORANGE (hello!), clued as [C source], and "BY GUM," clued as ["So help me!"]. There are also some gnarly bits: SAMARA is a [Volga valley city]. [With 8 across, 1961 song hit] clues BRISTOL / STOMP (huh?). [___ a pistol] led me straight to PACK A, but I needed to have HOT AS. MEIFUN is a [Rice-noodle recipe]. [Crystal known for cracks?] has nothing to do with quartz—it's BILLY Crystal with a fun clue.