September 10, 2008

Thursday, 9/11

NYS 4:40
NYT 4:06
LAT 3:37
CS 3:17

(updated at 12:20 Thursday afternoon)

The latest installment in Teen Week is Caleb Madison's New York Times crossword. I'm pleased to see that the techno wizard in charge of the NYT's applet found a way to add the "notepad" type of information just below the puzzle, as seen in the illustration. (Thanks, Peter Ritmeester!) An abbreviated note was still squished into the title bar, pushing Caleb's byline out of range.

Anyway, on to the puzzle itself: There are four 9- and 10-letter theme entries—the WALK OF FAME on HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD in LOS ANGELES—along with four 9- and 10-letter fill answers—VAMPIRE BAT, ELAINE MAY, RACKETEERS, and ABDOMINAL. It can be a little discombobulating when theme answers aren't readily distinguished from fill. Five letters (A, B, C, D, and E) are circled and are to be connected in sequence to draw a five-pointed star. There are also three rebus squares containing a star: A[STAR]TE, or [Ancient Semitic fertility goddess], crosses NO [STAR]CH, or [Request at a laundry]. [Place for picnicking and dog-walking] is a RE[ST AR]EA, crossing LO[ST AR]TS, or [Illumination of manuscripts, and others]. The [Yellow squirt?] of MU[STAR]D crosses [Options during computer woes], or RE[STAR]TS. I applaud the drive for innovation and envelope-pushing, but this crossword sort of unsettled me with its multi-pronged approach. Plus, the grid looked funny with its unusual pattern of branching black squares.

I may have watched the [Tony Musante TV series] called TOMA when I was a kid. Never heard of [Lynn who sang "We'll Meet Again"] and don't know if she's VERA Lynn or Lynn VERA—okay, Vera Lynn it is. [Dye plant]! It's my old friend ANIL. Am I the only one who had the end of [Makes people offers they can't refuse?] and filled the rest in as VOLUNTEERS? Because that was mighty wrong—it's RACKETEERS.

I was just telling my mom about Patrick Blindauer's early New York Sun crossword back on March 24, 2006, launching American Crossword Puzzle Tournament weekend. In that puzzle, called "Digital Connections," Patrick included five number rebus squares, unsignaled in the clues. I've circled them in this solution grid for demonstration purposes, but they weren't circled originally. The theme entries spell out ONE, TWO, THREE / FOUR, FIVE, THEN ONE / A STAR IS BORN, with the latter phrase clued [1937 Best Picture nominee (and what you might shout after finishing this puzzle)]. Indeed! Not only did solvers connect the numbered dots to draw a star, but that was Patrick's sparkling debut. I think that clue was Peter Gordon's announcement that Patrick was a budding star in crosswords, and he has proven himself to have plenty of other innovative puzzle concepts. Sometimes they're a little crazy, but we like that. Will Caleb Madison follow in Patrick's footsteps with more crazy crosswords? Time will tell.

Hooray! Another Karen Tracey "Themeless Thursday" in the New York Sun. Karen's crosswords usually delight me, and this one was no exception. Outside of SASQUATCH (a [Cryptozoology subject]), Karen's standard Scrabbly zing wasn't as much in evidence this time, but I liked it anyway. There are two vexing adjectives, WORRISOME or [Disturbing] and ATROCIOUS or [Execrable]. Lots of names:

  • Names not clued as people include Eberhard FABER pencils, the UINTA national forest in Utah, the ["Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" musical] ROBERTA (wait, why have I never heard of this?), ERA laundry detergent ([Surf alternative]), PRADESH, a TESLA, ASICS shoes, ERTES which are art by Erte, and a Lorne Greene song called RINGO.
  • People and characters in the puzzle: jazzman PETE Fountain, Billy Crystal's gay Soap character JODIE, some ALECS, REMO Williams, TOBEY Maguire, HENRY Heimlich, John DOS PASSOS, Joe TORRE, Matthew BRODERICK, ["Golden Boy" protagonist Joe] BONAPARTE (not a Napoleon clue!), chair designer EERO Aarnio, a random JIM, a baseball player named HENDERSON (Rickey?), tennis player Maria BUENO, and Costa Rica's Oscar ARIAS.

No wonder I liked this puzzle—I'm usually not fazed by names in the grid. Favorite clues include [Their numbers are in the book] for PAGES (referring to page numbers found in most books); [Luddite's organizational aid] for INDEX CARD; [Be unfair?] for RAIN; [Frozen or liquid thing] for ASSET; and [Some hospital figures, briefly] for ER DOCTORS (don't ask why I tried to get ER DEATHS to fit there).


I have been enjoying a lazy morning today, since I was on the go Tuesday and Wednesday morning. And now? D'oh! I gotta get moving if I'm going to pick up groceries before I pick up my kid.

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Pennant Fever," sounds like it has a timely baseball theme, doesn't it? But no, it's a more generic pennant he has in mind. Each theme entry begins with another word for "pennant" or "flag":
  • STANDARD ENGLISH is a [Dictionary subject].
  • FLAG FOOTBALL is a [Pop Warner program].
  • ENSIGN PULVER is a [Sequel to "Mister Roberts"].
  • BANNER HEADLINES are a [Newspaper's attention grabbers].
In the fill, [Square-dancing moves] are spelled DOSADOS, but when I was a kid being forced to learn the rudiments of square dancing, we went with "do-si-do." Wikipedia reviews the various spellings, all derived from the French for "back to back." I love the word SCALAWAG, or [Ne'er-do-well], and am pleased to see it in the grid. Apparently there's a ["Jurassic Park" actress Richards], first name ARIANA. Who? Oh, the kid, very good at eluding ravenous raptors in the kitchen. Good to see LARAINE, the [Ex-"SNL" star Newman], too, running alongside a microwaveable TV DINNER.

The theme in Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword eluded me until I finally filled in the middle of the puzzle, where an explanatory AIEOU appeared. That's the [Sequence found in this puzzle's five longest answers]. HALF-SERIOUS means [Kidding but not kidding], and that answer is stacked atop PATHETIC SOULS, or [Sad cases]. In the center there's a MALE LION CUB, or [Simba, at first]. Lower down, the theme stack contains MADE IT THROUGH, or [Survived], and GAMBLER'S I.O.U., a silent and short [1915 Harry Carey film, with "The"]. While I give props for the theme-entry stacking, the theme entries themselves lacked oomph and amusement. It felt like there were a number of abbreviations and clunky answers, too—MCLAREN is a [Formula One team that's a rival of Ferrari]? To me, Malcolm McLaren would have been the '80s-savvy way to go. CROSS RIB is a [Chuck roast option]? Never encountered the term before. I usually like Dan Naddor's puzzles much more than this one, so I look forward to his next appearance in the LA Times.