September 09, 2008

Wednesday, 9/10

Tausig 4:15
Onion 4:04
LAT 3:41
NYS 3:40
NYT 3:16
CS 3:13

(updated at 10:15 Wednesday morning)

Tuesday, blog commenter Melmoth suggested that if the Sun newspaper does go under, Peter Gordon should publish the crosswords online on a subscription basis. To be able to pay the constructors, of course, Peter would need to secure enough subscribers. I, for one, would love to see the Sun crossword continue. (And not least because I haven't gotten around to constructing a puzzle for/with Peter yet!) Please chime in on the poll in the sidebar—would you be willing to subscribe for online access to Sun-grade crosswords?

Wednesday's entry in Teen Week is a newcomer to the New York Times, Lucas Gaviotis Whitestone. Hey! A fresh theme! I like it. The last Across answer, INNER, is clued [Private...or a hint to the words spelled by the circled letters]. The theme entries are:

  • PAPERBACK WRITER, a [1966 Beatles #1 hit]. The circled letters spell out PEACE, as in "inner peace."
  • The [Louisville landmark] is CHURCHILL DOWNS, with an inner CHILD.
  • The [Command Kirk never really gave] (good clue) is "BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY," with an inner BEAUTY.
  • [Standard degrees for scientists] refers to the CENTIGRADE SCALE, with an inner CIRCLE. (Minus one point for the word "circled" appearing in the INNER clue when CIRCLE is hidden in one theme entry.)
The fill is notable for having relatively few proper names. I trust one of you will explain to me why POPE is the answer to [Successor to St. Peter]. I know why COWBELL is in there, and it's not because [It may be heard in a herd]—the cowbell became a showbiz legend in this SNL skit in which Christopher Walken as a record producer says he's gotta have more cowbell. I gotta have more geography—SENEGAL is a [Nation where Wolof and French are spoken].

I relished the "E Before I" theme in Richard and Judith Martin's New York Sun crossword. In five phrases, a word with an I preceding an E swaps those letters, radically altering the meaning:
  • Mucho dinero turns into MUCHO DE NIRO, or [What you'll see if you watch "Raging Bull" followed by "Taxi Driver" followed by "The King of Comedy"?].
  • A dime store becomes DEMI STORE, or [Where to buy "G.I. Jane" and "Striptease"?].
  • My favorite theme entry is NO SPRING CHECK-IN, a [Sign at the Three Seasons Hotel?] and an alteration of "no spring chicken." Perfect clue, perfect answer, perfect phrase behind the theme entry.
  • [Not quite half a score of jeans?] would be less than 10 pairs, or NINE LEVIS made from nine lives. (Minus one point for NINE being another I/E word left unchanged.)
  • [Where a Russian revolutionary leader kept his coats?] is in the LENIN CLOSET (linen closet). I rather like this one, too.
The cool theme gets an assist from the fill. KEN KESEY between Donny OSMOND and Wall-E's love interest EVE (hooray for a new EVE clue!)? An ALL-PRO ZEALOT corner? Good stuff. Favorite clues: [Samara dropper] is an ELM tree (samaras being the little seedy things that elms drop...and a botany word I learned from crosswords); [Seoul brothers?] for KOREANS; gift [Opening days?] for XMASES; and [Yellow solid] for the number ONE ball on a pool table.


Alan Olschwang's LA Times puzzle makes a theme out of Q words that are not QU words. Let's call it the Trip Payne special, since Trip was immortalized in Wordplay as being particularly fond of the letter Q. There are five pairs of Q words and phrases here, so the three long answers are shored up by seven short ones:
  • QWEST WIRELESS is a [Big name in cell phone service] (Psst: Verizon is better.) [Mosul's land], IRAQ, shares the Q.
  • The QWERTY KEYBOARDS are [standard for PCs]. HDQRS, or [Decision-making sites: Abbr.] is the Q crosser.
  • QANTAS AIRWAYS is a [Sydney carrier]. An ocean [Liner of note], the QEII, crosses this one. All travel!
  • A [Medicine cabinet item] is a Q-TIP, and it crosses QMAIL, a [Unix transfer agent for online correspondence] that I know nothing about.
  • QBS, or quarterbacks, are [TD pass throwers], and QATAR is a [Persian Gulf land]. IRAQ and QATAR are joined in the Middle East by ISRAEL, a [Negev desert country] that has no Q in its name.
Favorite clue: [They may be kicked off or kicked up] for HEELS. Most obscure answer: a MENE is a [Word on a wall]. You know what keeps this puzzle from being a pangram? There's no U in it.

Tom Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "You're in the Army Now," features three fictional characters with military names. Goldie Hawn's PRIVATE BENJAMIN did enlist in the Army. Bob Keeshan's CAPTAIN KANGAROO was not a military figure; Wikipedia says his name "came from the big pockets in his coat"—that explains the Kangaroo, but not the Captain part. The [Fictional Yukon lawman], SERGEANT PRESTON, was a Mountie. In the fill, it took me a while to remember that a word for [Abject submissiveness] is SERVILITY. [Demands] clues STANDS ON, which looks weird without a noun after it, as in "stands on formality."

Even before I start reading the clues, I could probably identify a Matt Jones crossword. His grids have a distinctive look to them—they're themed but they tend to make space for a lot of long answers, so the black squares form a weird pattern. Compare Matt's Onion A.V. Club crossword here with these more common grid designs. Subjectively, I'd say Matt's puzzles are a little ugly at the outset, but they soon win me over with their content. The theme here is the ersatz:
  • [Fake song by the Rolling Stones?] is BROWN NUTRASWEET, as Nutrasweet is an artificial sweetener and the real song title is "Brown Sugar."
  • Grass roots politicking is swapped out for ASTROTURF ROOTS, a [Fake type of campaign?].
  • Fruit leather downgrades to FRUIT NAUGAHYDE, a [Fake snack for kids]. Any time you can throw in the word Naugahyde, it's gonna be funny.
  • Tomato catsup can be used as low-budget fake blood, so if blood brothers are close relatives, [Fake close relatives?] might be KETCHUP BROTHERS.

My favorites among the fill and clues: [Mepos' best-known emigrant, in an 1980s sitcom] (should be "a 1980s" or "an '80s") is BALKI, played by Bronson Pinchot on...what was it called? Perfect Strangers. I didn't watch it, but the Balki concept is as innately funny/bad as Naugahyde. APROPOS OF looks cool in the grid; it's clued [With regard to]. [Brady in the upper right] is GREG Brady in The Brady Bunch's opening sequence. The [Indian car company trying to break into the U.S. market with the Nano] is called TATA. Is that name a plus or a minus to the American public?

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Triple Scramble," concocts phrases out of three anagrams. A [Director's edit of a war film with a more adorable treaty-signing scene?], for example, could be a CUTER TRUCE RECUT. A PENAL PLANE PANEL and SMITE TIMES MITES round out the theme. Not my favorite theme, but there's some good stuff in the fill. ATALANTA, the [Mythical runner]? Love her! Particularly the feminist "Free to Be...You and Me" version. A DIRTBALL crosses a LOGJAM in colorful compound word territory. PACK IT IN is good idiomatic English, and "I KNEW IT!" is aptly clued as [Words from one whose fears are confirmed]. I didn't know that OTONO was [Fall, in Spain]; I suspect it's a cognate of autumn and automne. CBGB is the [Bowery club now occupied by a clothing boutique]; boutiques are not as punk as CBGB was. Who will tell me why CHER is a [Noted user of Auto-Tune]? What is Auto-Tune?