September 03, 2008

Thursday, 9/4

NYS untimed (forgot to start the Across Lite timer)
LAT 4:37
NYT 4:20*
CS 3:25

(updated at 1 p.m. Thursday)
Ellen Ripstein sent me a link to tomorrow's letter from the editor of the New York Sun. The newspaper's in danger of folding at the end of the month unless it gets rescued financially. I hope we don't lose the Sun as a crossword publisher because (1) I love the Sun puzzles, which are consistently excellent, entertaining, and challenging; (2) constructors appreciate an outlet that pays fairly well, offers speedy accept/reject decisions, and publishes five puzzles a week; (3) the themed Friday Suns are typically the most innovative and tough themed puzzles available to the general public; (4) there's a themeless puzzle nearly every week; and (5) in a year that already saw Fred Piscop lose his Washington Post editing gig, it would be a shame for Peter Gordon to lose his platform too.

The applet lied to me with Matt Ginsberg's New York Times puzzle. The clock showed 0:03 when it opened, 4:23 when I clicked "done," and 4:35 in the applet standings. I'm calling it an honest 4:20, and you can't stop me. The crossword has long answers that are mere fill, while the theme lurks in five divided entries that look like they're 10 cross-referenced answers. I like this theme, and it's perfectly suited to a Thursday NYT.

  • 15- and 16-Across: [Boxing result, often] is a split decision, hence the latter word is split into DECIS and ION.
  • 23- and 24-Across: [Curious case in psychology] is a split PERSON / ALITY.
  • 38- and 39-Across: An [Instant] is a split SEC / OND.
  • 48- and 50-Across: Supposedly split INFIN / ITIVES are [Grammatical infelicities]. The "rule" against splitting infinitives has been termed prescriptivist poppycock.
  • 62- and 63-Across: To evenly split THE / CHECK (this one's got a two-word phrase being split by a black square in the grid) is to [go Dutch].

Two entries don't look familiar to me—TUKTUK is a [Three-wheeled Indian taxi]? You don't say, Matt! INSTIL means [Impart gradually: Var.], and I don't think I've encountered that variant spelling before. Favorite entries and clues:
  • A notable [Feature of an acacia tree] is a THORN. I was just pondering acacias last week when pointing out to my kid the ferocious thorns on a honey locust. (Turns out the black locust is sometimes called "false acacia.")
  • LEISURELY is one of those oddball words, an -ly adverb that's more commonly used as an adjective meaning [Slow]. (Lovely and ugly are -ly adjectives, but they don't double as adverbs.)
  • PRESCIENCE is a [Delphic quality].
  • Two (auto)biographies! I, TINA is by Tina Turner, while R.E. LEE is about Robert E. Lee.
  • [From southern Spain] is ANDALUSIAN. I don't know which regions of Spain are where, so I started out with CATALONIAN.
  • A [Hawk, maybe] is a NEOCON, politically speaking.
  • Is an ICICLE a [Makeshift dagger] in terms of actual violence, or just for play?
  • [Trample, for example] is a RHYME. Dang! This sort of clue always tricks me.
  • Anyone else consider OMOO for [Where Melville's Billy Budd went]? Knee-jerk reaction: 4 letters, Melville? Must be OMOO. Nope, wrong story. He went ASEA. I do get Billy Budd confused with Bartleby the Scrivener, who went to the office but preferred not to work. (And this, in the pre-internet-time-wasting era!)

Justin Smith's New York Sun crossword, "Rid Iron," felt rather Thursdayish in its difficulty, I think. Usually when I open an Across Lite puzzle, the timer starts running automatically, and I didn't notice that this one's timer was off so I have no idea how long it actually took me to solve the puzzle. The title suggests that the theme entries will get "rid" of "iron," whose chemical symbol is Fe. But no, the title actually points to the football gridiron with its first letter lopped off, and each theme entry is an NFL team with its first letter (after an intact city name) deleted:
  • BUFFALO ILLS are [Woes of an animal on the range?]. The Buffalo Bills lose a B. The large bovines are not, as far as I know, allied with musical theater in any way.
  • CHICAGO EARS are [Things that hear "All That Jazz" and "Cell Block Tango"?], those being songs from the musical Chicago. The Bears have lost a B. Have they also lost their mojo, or will they have a decent season? 
  • DETROIT IONS are [Charged items of a "Guys and Dolls" guy?], with the Lions dropping an L. Detroit refers to Nathan Detroit, a Guys and Dolls character.

In the fill, there are a slew of small things: A PORE is a [Sweat spot], ENS are [Typesetting units], DAHS are [Dashes in a code], PIPS are a [Pair of deuces?] (pips being the doohickeys, like hearts and clubs, on a playing card, as well as dots on dice and dominoes), an ATOM is a [Bohr model depiction], and a PHOTON is a [Light quantum]. Here are the fill and clues I most admired:
  • JO MARCH of Little Women is a [1994 role for Winona Ryder].
  • [T man?] is a REF in that a sports referee may signal T for time. What's that? My husband says the ref's T may also mean a technical foul.
  • WALRUS! It's a [Large pinniped].
  • SPANDEX can be a [Cyclist's wear].
  • [Bar food] isn't just greasy fried food—it's also SALAD from the salad bar.
  • SAHARAN is clued with [In need of a shower?], meaning a rain shower.
  • ST. JAMES is one [Orange Monopoly property]. Do you know how long a single Monopoly game lasts? Good gravy! I was reminded after Ben's birthday, when we played. Three hours in, you might be nowhere near finished. It's dreadful. Clue and Life are more readily finite.
  • CHOLERA busts into the big time, regardless of the breakfast-test unworthiness of a fatal diarrheal disease. It was [Polk's fatal affliction].
  • I like to say PATOIS. It means [Cant] or jargon.


Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's LA Times puzzle takes as its theme phrases with homonymic words for clues: A [Raise] is an EMPLOYEE'S REWARD. [Rays] are UNITS OF SUNSHINE. And to [Raze] is to LEVEL A STRUCTURE. Some less common answers or difficult clues:
  • [Heaven, in Hawaiian] is LANI.
  • GANJA isn't just slang for marijuana—it's also an [Azerbaijan city].
  • YGOR was [Bela's "Son of Frankenstein" role].
  • RINSO was an [Old detergent with "sunshine whiteners"]. It's mildly surprising to see an 8-letter word (sunshine) duplicated between a clue and a theme answer.
  • [Clotho, for one] is FATE, as in one of the Fates in classical mythology.
  • ATRI is [Longfellow's bell town]. (Hersey's bell town is Adano. What is it with bell towns in literature?)
  • Woody ALLEN is the [Writer with the most Oscar nominations]—an interesting bit of trivia.
  • Congressional PAGE is a [Job for a political wannabe], at least for a young one.
  • I haven't heard of [Golfer Sabbatini], first name RORY. Here he is.
  • [Slammer's victim?] anthropomorphizes a DOOR.
  • [Source of relief] is an OASIS. You know what? I have never once gotten relief from an oasis, unless you count the rest areas called tollway oases.

Updated again:

Mel Rosen's CrosSynergy puzzle, "CD Collection," gathers six phrases with C.D. initials, four long ones and two short ones in the middle:
  • [Nebula composition] is COSMIC DUST.
  • [Frank on a stick] is a CORN DOG.
  • A [Lively rhythmic entertainer] is a CLOG DANCER.
  • CARPE DIEM is a [Philosophy for doers].
  • Speaking of those doers, CAN-DO means [Enthusiastic, as an attitude].
  • A [Submarine's evasive maneuver] is a CRASH DIVE. Note that the submarine-dodging-danger sense rules here rather than the plane-going-down sense, which would be a bummer.

I could do without the TAPIR, a [Nocturnal ungulate with a long snout]. My last tapir encounter was in the spring of 2007, and please heed this counsel: If a tapir is facing away from you and there's no glass separating you, do keep your distance. They're prodigious pee-ers.