September 20, 2008

Sunday, 9/21

NYT — {insert your own time here}
PI 11:05
LAT 8:30
BG 8:18
CS 3:38
NYT diagramless — untimed

(updated at 4:45 Sunday afternoon)

Hello, friends and fans of the Fiend -- Janie here, sharing the honors with Her Orangeness, who -- as befits her vaunted position -- will undertake the lion's share of the Sunday puzzles. Which is to say, everything else. Let the games begin with the Sunday New York Times!

When I accepted the offer to guest blog, little did it occur to me to think that my first time out would be in the service of a B.E.Q. Holy moly. BUT – after a first pass through with almost nothing to show for my efforts, I began adding more and more letters and about 40 minutes later: a completed puzzle – that got filled in mostly from the bottom up – and sorta SE to SW, then NE to NW.

There is a lot of theme fill in "It's a Mystery" -- where the last names of LEADDETECTIVES are paired to give us (mostly) quite familiar phrases. To wit:

  • DREWUNIVERSITY -- That'd be Nancy Drew, creation of the (composite) Carolyn Keene, and the only dame in the joint. A terrific read on "Miss Keene" can be found in Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak.
  • FISHSTORY -- Phil Fish, precinct compadre of Barney Miller and memorably played by Abe Vigoda.
  • MAGNUMOPUS -- Thomas Sullivan Magnum, IV, one of Tom Selleck's claims to fame (Magnum P.I.)
  • HAMMERTHROW -- Mike Hammer, Mickey Spillane's 1947 creation, who first appeared in I, the Jury. Here's a link for Mike Hammer and what separates him from other "genre" tecs.
  • FELLASLEEP -- Okay, Gideon Fell is completely new to me. Please say I'm not alone!! But I sleuthed him out (so to speak...) on Wiki and so can you.
  • MASONJARS -- Erle Stanley Gardner's main man, of course, Perry Mason. Turn on the speakers and cue up one of the all-time great tv themes.
  • QUEENMOTHER -- Ellery Queen, that is -- and it turns out there's some interesting backstory on him as well.
  • SPADECASINO -- Oh, yeah, Sam Spade. Thank you, Dashiell Hammett, for the archetype! Spade first appeared in 1930 in The Maltese Falcon, but if you don't want to commit to reading that, you might wanna try The Continental Op or The Big Knockover -- fabulously vivid (Hammett) short stories that lovers of language as well as the detective genre gotta appreciate! (Oh, and “spade casino”?? Turns out it’s “a form of casino in which spades have the value of one point.”)
Soooo many great lead detectives that didn't make the cut this time -- Jane Tennison, Endeavour Morse, Hercule Poirot, Kurt Wallander. Well actually, of those, only Morse would qualify (MORSECODE). But you can see what a great theme this is – and the range of characters it summons up!

But this is Brendan Emmett Quigley – so you know there’s more than a great theme to make this puzzle so rich.

Some clue/fill combos that made me sit up and take notice:

  • Launches/DEBUTS – thought that was gonna refer to something nautical, but noooo.
  • Difficult situation/HOTSEAT – kinda like where I feel like I’m sittin’…
  • It’s often punched on a keypad/PIN – I like having that “easy” answer for what was initially a head-scratcher of a clue.
  • Duds/APPAREL – Not TURKEYS. This one almost always fools me…
  • "…Swollen Appendices"/ENO – See, one of the things with Brendan’s puzzles are the pop-culture references. Never heard of the song, which is nowhere near my personal sweet spot – but thanks to regular solving, now know of Brian ENO. Tyro solvers – take note!
  • Trig angle/ARCSINE – New to me (I was always more of a humanities gal) and my rudimentary trig (sine, cosine, tangent, hypotenuse…) wasn’t cuttin’ it.
  • Salad morsel/BEAN – Okay, and there I was, goin’ for LEAF…
  • ...vice president…Maryland/AGNEW – Not sure I’m altogether proud to say that’s my home state in this case – but believe me, at the time he became governor in 1966, he was by far the better choice. George Mahoney, his Democratic opponent, was actually running on an anti-integration platform ("your home is your castle"). Not my home state’s finest moment…
  • Eve ____.../ENSLER – Have received ”Drill, Drill, Drill” many, many times in the last few weeks. If you haven’t read it, let’s just say she’s not Sarah Palin’s biggest fan…
  • Unlikely to be Miss America/HOMELY – Uh, or Mr. America either, for that matter. I think I’d have preferred a clue that referred to the domestic arts.
  • Big tournament/OPEN – Again, wasn’t expecting the “easy” fill. (Sometimes I am my own worst enemy!)
  • Loose overcoat/RAGLAN – Not clued as a type of sleeve. Nice. 
  • Certain photo caption/AFTER – This one just makes me smile and brings to mind all sortsa cheesy, back-of-the-magazine kinda images.
  • Behind/INAHOLE – See HOTSEAT…
Thank goodness for AGNEW, SAFIRE and JOADS. They let me get a toe-hold in the SE and created the base on which I was able to build up.

Did I neglect your faves? The floor is now open!


Janie – who managed to use the “shift” key for the entire post!!


Orange here, reporting for duty. Merci beaucoup and vielen Dank to Janie for giving me Saturday night off! You know, I was just talking about Janie last night via e-mail with a crossword friend, who said (and I quote) "I adore Janie. She is vibrant, warm, genuine, and kind." I agree, and wanted to class up the joint with Janie's presence. Thanks for your post, Janie! (I didn't want to step on Janie's write-up by saying much about Brendan's puzzle here, but I gave a little feedback over at the new Today's Puzzles forum.)

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "A Pronounced Difference," has a whopping 17 theme entries, eight of them found in stacked pairs and three more staggered in a stack across the center of the grid. That's some high-end constructin' there! I figured out the theme when I decoded [Run away from an attorney?], or FLEE BAILEY. This, like the other theme entries, takes a phrase in which one to four letters are pronounced individually (e.g., "F. Lee Bailey" has a stand-alone F) as separate words and changes the pronunciation to make them into words. Four of the theme entries parse two-letter postal abbreviations of state names as short words (for example, [Aloha?] is a HONOLULU HI, and ["O won a trip to where? You're kidding!"] clues both "COLUMBUS? OH!" and "PORTLAND? ME?"). There are too many theme entries to list them all, so I'll share my favorites:
  • [Prelude to a good cry?] is A BUNCH OF SOBS, playing on S.O.B.'s.
  • A [Water-toting kid?] is a BASIN BOY, playing on "B as in boy."
  • Two foreign-language plays on words are "ASSISTANT? DA," or [Response to "So you're the premier's right-hand man?"], playing on assistant district attorney; and MIT DEGREES, or [How Germans graduate?], mit being German for "with" and M.I.T. being a degree-granting university.
I had one iffy square—I wanted [Wilted] to be SOGGY rather than SAGGY (the correct answer), but ABADAN looked a little more plausible than ABODAN for the [Iranian refinery city]. I do enjoy Merl's wordplay game–within–a–crossword themes, and this one was especially enjoyable.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon take the "Oxymoronic" approach in their Boston Globe puzzle in Across Lite. There are 12 theme answers (six Across and six Down, so plenty of intersecting theme entries here), mostly clued straightforwardly. They include RANDOM ORDER, the BIGGER HALF, and an OPEN SECRET. WHOLE PIECE didn't sound "in the language" to me, so I Googled it and found a lot of hits that didn't include that phrase in the excerpt in the Google results page. Googling "I ate the whole piece" turned up some relevant uses, though. PEACE FORCE sounded, well, forced—but Googling it shows plenty of "peace force" entities. I hear more about "peace-keeping forces." I must fervently object to FIEND being clued as [Satanic sort]. Crossword Fiends are very nice people. Honest.

Jack McInturff's syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword is called "That Is Extra" because "that is" in Latin is i.e., short for id est, and each theme entry has an IE inserted into a familiar phrase. I had a heckuva time figuring out that [Odd way to do a gangster movie?] was WITHOUT MEANIES, and the [National Soccer Hall of Fame city] perched above it didn't help. I tried Orlando and Atlanta before I finally worked it out that it was ONEONTA. 1-Across, [Hit], could be a verb or a noun with assorted meanings, so SUCCESS didn't come right to mind. And 3-Down, [Dolphins' group]—I wanted something like NFC EAST (I have no idea what division Miami's football team is in), but it's not that kind of dolphins, it's those in the order CETACEA. The other sections of the puzzle were more pliable, with [Al Capone's gang?], the CHICAGO BULLIES, and the [Mound covered with freshman headgear?], or HILL OF BEANIES. I like the play on "many moons": MANY MOONIES are a [Unification Church throng?].

Martin Ashwood-Smith's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" is among the easier themeless puzzles of late. It's got two triple-stacks of 15-letter answers and another solo 15 in the middle. This puzzle marks the return of "I GO!" as an answer, clued as ["My turn!"]. I never used to say that, but ever since it appeared in a previous crossword, I like to say "I go!" when playing board games with my kid. It just might catch on among the younger generation...though it hasn't yet. Favorite clues and answers:
  • An EDITORIAL WRITER is a [Daily contributor]...although most newspapers' editorial writers write one to three times a week, don't they? They have someone from their op-ed corps writing on a daily basis, but not often the same person.
  • DAMSELFLY is a cool word. It's clued as {American Rubyspot, for one], and that's a bug I know nothing about.
  • [Military brass?] clues BUGLES.
  • MILWAUKEE is the [Miller Brewing co. city]. The Brewers play ball there in Miller Park.

I had to rely on the crossings for the [Edmond O'Brien comedy of 1950, with "The"], or ADMIRAL WAS A LADY. I'm not KEEN ON ([Liking a lot]) that instance of lopping off "The." The title seems woefully incomplete without its "The." Another theme entry, ORIGIN OF SPECIES, loses its "The" too—this [Classic of 1859, with "The"] somehow flows better than the other The-less title, doesn't it? I think it's that in the first one, the article is part of a sentence you might say aloud, whereas it's just an article before a noun phrase in the other instance.

Updated again late Sunday afternoon:

Today's second Sunday New York Times puzzle is a diagramless crossword by Byron Walden. It took me far too long to move from scratch paper to the grid now that I've quit using the starting-square hint. Eventually it dawned on me that it looked like it had left/right symmetry, so maybe I could go ahead and plunk 1-Across in the middle of the top row. Whaddaya know? It worked out fine. I didn't exert much mental effort trying to figure out what connected the starred theme entries...much less paying attention to which clues had the asterisks. Then it all came together at the bottom: 55-Across, the [Word that describes the answers to the six asterisked clues] is Y-SHAPED. Wait, I only saw four starred clues. I missed 51-Across, an ANTIBODY or [Resistance fighter?], and 52-Across, WISHBONE or [Chicken leftover]. (That's an antibody in the picture at left.) [Branch of hydrology?] is a misleading clue for a DIVINING ROD, while [Orchestra members' aids] is a straightforward hint for TUNING FORKS. Football GOALPOSTS are the [Ends of some fields], a rather vague clue. And a SLINGSHOT is a [Dennis the Menace zinger?], another mislead.

The non-theme clues also had that Byron touch. [Certain Gulf Stater] sent my mind to the Persian Gulf, but it's an ALABAMAN at issue here. [Time for a shower] is the month of APRIL. [Stick stuff that sticks stuff] refers to GLUE, as in a glue stick. (I have about 10 glue sticks in the house. Am ready for Ben's first third-grade poster project!) Some of the non-theme fill was unusual. There's a DATE TREE, the verb phrase HOLD OPEN, and the fun-to-say NUGATORY, to name a few.

I like it when a diagramless puzzle uses the pattern to draw a picture. In this one, the black squares in the middle form a big Y-SHAPED structure.