September 02, 2008

Wednesday, 9/3

Onion 5:39
CS 5:36
Tausig 4:50
NYS 4:17
LAT 4:07
NYT 3:06

(updated at 11 a.m. Wednesday)

David Kahn, the master of the timely tribute puzzle, crafted the Wednesday New York Times crossword to honor MICHAEL PHELPS (36-Across). Running vertically across his name, like a few lanes in the Olympic pool, are three 15-letter theme answers, and the central one is bracketed by an additional two 6-letter theme entries:

  • [What each of seven 36-Across events at the 2008 Olympics ended in] is a WORLD RECORD TIME. What a slacker, winning a gold in that eighth event without setting a new world record.
  • [Singular achievement by 36-Across at the 2008 Olympics] is EIGHT GOLD MEDALS.
  • [One technique used by 36-Across] is the BUTTERFLY STROKE.
  • SPEEDO is a [Brand name associated with 36-Across].
  • And The Baltimore BULLET is a [nickname of 36-Across].

Yep, that's about the size of it. Notable non-theme fill:
  • CORN DOGS! They're [Carnival food on sticks]. Math problem: Calculate how many corn dogs could Phelps eat when training and eating 12,000 calories a day.
  • BEHEMOTH is something mighty big, a [Colossus]. It's fun to say, that word. As is BEDLAM, or a [Madhouse].
  • Two 8-letter verb phrases starting with I: INCHED UP means [Increased slowly] and IRONS OUT is [Smooths over].
  • Back in the early '80s, my dad had a weird fixation on [Singer Easton], first name SHEENA.
  • FUSE has a great clue: [It may be found in a box in the basement].

Fill that's less desirable, but facilitated a smooth theme:
  • ACERS are [Providers of excellent service?] on the tennis court. You guys watching the U.S. Open too?
  • EGER is the [Hungarian city known for its thermal baths], and ELY is a [Cathedral city near Cambridge]. Both are place names crosswords taught me.
  • OAT is a straightforward word, but the [___ flakes (cereal)] clue seems a bit obfuscatory.
  • STATEDLY is clued [As expressly said]. Not sure I've seen or heard this before.
  • The ELOI are a [Beautiful race in an H.G. Wells novel], and the most popular fictional race in all of crosswords.
  • OCEANO is [El Atlantico, por ejemplo], Spanish for "ocean." Certainly easy enough to guess the last letter thanks to CORN DOGS, but not a Spanish word that non-Spanish-speakers often encounter. At least not in the Midwest.
  • NEH. is short fo Nehemiah, an [O.T. book].
  • [Wide shoe spec], always EEE in crosswordland. Unless there's room for EEEE, that is.

The New York Sun crossword may mark the debut of constructor Daniel Finan. In the "Oppositely" theme, phrases with adverbs are reinterpreted as if the adverb has a meaning opposite to the adjective that follows. To wit:
  • [Like a pillow that's not at all comfortable?] is HARDLY SOFT. Hardly means scarcely but hard without the -ly is the opposite of soft. There's sort of an inherent oxymoronicity to the phrase.
  • [Like steak orders at bad steakhouses?] is RARELY WELL-DONE. A steak can't be cooked both rare and well-done, but can seldom be cooked well.
  • [Like a game that isn't much of a nail-biter?] is FAIRLY ONE-SIDED. Which is it, fair or one-sided?
  • [Like a ham's performance?] is REALLY FAKE. Fake in a real fashion?
Favorite clues:
  • [Its in-flight magazine is Atmosphere] clues EL AL. A new EL AL clue! Same with ["Waiting for Snow in Havana" author Carlos] EIRE. A non-Ireland clue for EIRE! But not to worry: AER [__ Lingus] is here for a dash of airline and Irish familiarity.
  • [Wearer of white gloves] isn't a maid with high standards, but a MIME.
  • PLAY-DOH! [It's in the National Toy Hall of Fame].
Unfamiliar journeys through chemistry: BAY OIL is a [Perfume aromatic], and [Urethane, e.g.] is an ESTER.


Well, the link I usually use to download the CrosSynergy puzzle worked just fine today—just in time for my brain to shut down. I was slow to grasp the theme, slow to grasp the clues, and likely to assign clues to the wrong direction. Bob Klahn's "Bag of Tricks" theme includes four phrases that begin with words that can precede trick:
  • DIRTY RAT is a [Weasel]; dirty trick.
  • MAGIC BULLET is a [Perfect remedy]; magic trick. One example of my solving mind being off this morning: I entered MAGIC BUTTON. What the hell is a magic button?
  • A [Rollercoaster ride, relatively] is a CHEAP THRILL; cheap trick (or the band Cheap Trick, to whom the teen-idol Jonas Brothers have been likened in reviews of their new album). Skydiving would be a more expensive thrill.
  • The Mexican HAT DANCE is a [Sombrero number]; a hat trick is something in hockey.

The fill here includes many 7-letter answers and a pair of non-thematic 8's, and overall the cluing is on the hard/Klahnian side. I have never encountered IDUNIT before. Clued as [First-person mystery?], one definition is "an autobiographical or confessional account usually of a sensational character." The first letter crosses ICE SHOW; camels are some sort of ice-skating move, so [Where to see camels] is an ICE SHOW. (Not an answer that was coming to me quickly.) I like POSADA, or [Tijuana tavern], because way back before the Taco Bell and Pepe's chains sprawled Mexican food all over the nation, my family used to go to a place called La Posada. Whether it was authentic, I don't know, but we loved the tortilla chips. They were exotic. Ah, the '70s.

Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword has the same sort of theme as the Klahn, only with the unifying word included in the grid rather than the title (LA Times dailies don't have titles) and the key words ending (not beginning) each theme entry.
  • SERVICE, as part of a repair job, is the [Parts partner, and word that can follow the ends of answers to starred clues].
  • The first of six starred entries is ZIP YOUR LIP, or ["Shut up!"]; lip service.
  • A [Brawl site] is a BAR ROOM; room service.
  • HAYWIRE means [Crazy]; wire service.
  • NOTE TO SELF is clued as a [Personal reminder]; self-service.
  • An [Average citizen] is JOHN Q. PUBLIC (despite the demographic facts dictating that an actual average American citizen would be female—so much idiomatic English elevates men over women); public service.
  • One sort of [Proprietary advantage] is a TRADE SECRET; Secret Service.

I like a lot of the fill here. Much of it's got that Scrabbly zing—there are four J's, a Z and Q, and a pair of K's. B.J. THOMAS, the ["Hooked on a Feeling" singer], offers a blast from the '70s and a little of that J goodness.

Tyler Hinman's Onion A.V. Club crossword has another variant on the theme type used in the Klahn and Naddor puzzles. The late HBO hit series THE WIRE is the anchor, and the four theme entries begin with words that can precede wire:
  • CHICKEN KIEV is a [Breaded and fried dish] stuffed with delicious butter; then there's chicken wire.
  • LIVE CONCERT is a musical [Show, redundantly]; live wire.
  • The [Beau monde] is HIGH SOCIETY; high wire.
  • PIANO LESSON is [Where to learn key concepts?]; piano wire.
Favorite clues: [The devil's preferred label?] for PRADA (as in the book and movie, The Devil Wore Prada), and [Frustum-shaped candies] for ROLOS. Things I didn't know:
  • [Part of OBL] means OSAMA. I've never seen the initials used.
  • GRYPHON is the [Character that takes Alice to see the Mock Turtle]. Really? There's a Gryphon in the story? I had no idea.
  • SELF was a [Winning coach at the 2008 Final Four]/ Who? What team? Huh?
  • IRC is [Source of some material]. Say what? Neither the clue nor answer is remotely familiar. Let us Google...okay, is down today, but I think IRC is internet relay chat. I am nowhere near geeky enough to know And that's not a bad thing.
  • The clue ["AKA ___" (Hives song] summoned up exactly nothing in my memory. It's IDIOT.

In Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Cuts Together," each theme entry combines two haircuts and clues them in a way unrelated to tonsorial action:
  • [Bird of prey's feint?] is a FAUX HAWK BOB, as if the hawk is bobbing and weaving to fake out its prey. Fauxhawk and bob are hairstyles. Yesterday, our waitress at the Park Grill in Chicago's Millennium Park sported a fauxhawk, marking the first time I've seen the do on a woman.
  • [Period of diminished returns for a stoner?] is a BUZZ FADE, the fading of her drug-induced buzz.
  • A [College football game played below the Sahara?] might be the AFRO BOWL.
  • [Carpet made from honeycomb?] would be BEEHIVE SHAG.
I love a lot of the fill and clues, For example, BLUBBER is clued as the [Judy Blume novel about bullying]. ELLEN and Portia de ROSSI are joined in cruciverbal matrimony in the upper left corner. There's [One-named singer] BJORK and a CHAKRA, JOCOSE or [Good-humored], and slangy PERV crossing both PISSED ([Steaming] mad) and ORGASMS ([Lay missions?]) in the section that announces "This is not your grandmother's crossword puzzle." I do have to dock Ben a few points for including BOB, or [Try for apples], when a theme entry includes BOB.