(updated at 5 p.m. Friday)
Friday's two themeless puzzles offer about as much contrast as two very good themeless crosswords can. Patrick Berry's New York Times puzzle contains a super-low word count of 54; there has been just one 52-worder and three other 54-worders in the NYT. David Quarfoot's Sun crossword, a "Weekend Warrior," has the highest allowable word count for a themeless, 72. The Quarfoot puzzle has six 10-letter answers plus an assortment of 3- to 8-letter answers. The Berry has two 12's, one 11, mostly 6- to 8-letter answers, and just one 3 and a pair of 5's. Quarfoot's puzzle has colorful phrases and surprising letter sequences where Berry's has mostly single words containing lots of common letters (including plurals with S and -EST superlatives). Berry's 54-worder was undoubtedly much more challenging to make, and I found it much harder to solve—but that experience wasn't universal.
What gave me such difficulty in solving Berry's New York Times crossword? I got mired in a few spots in the northeast quadrant of the grid. I'd never encountered the term PAST MASTERS, clued straightforwardly as [People of much experience]. Having no organic chemistry knowledge, [Organic compounds used as solvents] stumped me too—the answer is ETHERS, which could have been clued in a way that made it easier for a non-scientist to tease out. I should've gotten TATTIEST for [Showing the most wear and tear]. [Sherlock Holmes story not by Conan Doyle, e.g.] clued PASTICHE, and that clue just wasn't pointing me there. Other trouble spots in this corner were GASPER, or [Coffin nail], meaning a cigarette in chiefly British slang; TESTATE, or having a will, clued as [Ready to go, you might say] (with a neighbor on his deathbed, I don't like this clue one bit). The friendlier parts of this corner were STARKERS, or [In the buff]; the Green Bay PACKERS; and GESTALT, or [Integration that exceeds the sum of its parts].
The northwest quadrant was far less vexing though it had a capital city I didn't know: MALABO is [Equatorial Guinea's capital]. (I just learned that an old friend is living in the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat—another capital city that had eluded my notice.) MORALE is [What boosters boost]; I wanted that one to be a plural for a while, which impeded the discovery of EASELED, or [Like paintings in progress]. [Curacao flavoring] is ORANGE. (Holla!) [Delivery professionals?] are ORATORS. Joining the two upper corners is SPEEDOMETERS, clued with [They offer rates for automobiles]. The middle of the puzzle contains the one 3-letter answer, PAS, clued as [Things that talk in sch.?]—P.A.'s, or public address systems.
The southwest corner contains one of my favorite words, MORDANT, or [Bitingly sarcastic]. [Skin soother] tricked me into entering ALOEVERA, the crossword world's favorite skin soother, in lieu of the correct CALAMINE. RAIMENT is clued with the plural [Closet hangings]. A [Special announcer] announcing the day's specials can be a WAITRESS. MALAYA, the second MALA** geographic answer in this puzzle, is clued [Singapore lies just off its tip].
The southeast corner was also more pliant than the quadrant above it. This was the easiest corner for me, as the clues tended to be simpler. ELEANOR [of Aquitaine, Henry II's wife] was a big gimme. [Nickname for a cheater in the Oklahoma land rush of 1889] provides the background for the word SOONER. MALLOW is a [Plant family that includes the hibiscus], and ONSIDE, or [Not behind the defenders], is the opposite of offside in soccer and hockey. The long answer connecting the two lower quadrants is SPARES THE ROD ([Isn't strict enough, say])—I'll bet someone somewhere has put that in a cryptic crossword with the clue evoking sparest + Herod.
David Quarfoot's Sun crossword kicks off 1-Across with goofy pop culture: [Certain pet's refrain] is CH-CH-CH-CHIA, from the Chia Pet commercials. Those H's all needed vowels below them, but the C's could be followed by H's and L's (or R's), so 15-Across didn't need to begin with eight vowels in a row: "HI-LILI, HI-LO" is a [Song in a 1953 movie musical], Lili. I like the opposite corner even better, with YOU ARE HERE [Words by an arrow] stacked atop Gollum's classic line, "MY PRECIOUS," stacked atop SLEEP APNEA, or [Diagnosis from a polysomnogram].
Other clues and answers of note:
I'm short on time today, having just gotten back from breakfast and awaiting the arrival of an out-of-town friend so I can go to second breakfast.
Jack McInturff's LA Times crossword lops off a W from the beginning of five phrases:
Patrick Blindauer's CrosSynergy puzzle was a breeze for me (for a Friday, anyway). All four theme entries in "Have You Herd?" are people's names that contain a hidden ELK. There were plenty of other names in the fill, so the puzzle had a contemporary pop culture feel to it. The themers:
What's this SO BAD that was a [1984 Paul McCartney hit]? Why don't I remember that song at all?
I didn't get a chance to do the Wall Street Journal and Chronicle of Higher Ed crosswords yet. Maybe later...
Will Nediger's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Puzzle 4.0," has a perfect 4.0 GPA in that the letter string GPA appears in four rebus squares. For extra elegance points, the rebus squares are in exactly symmetrical locations. I'm guessing there weren't all that many theme-entry phrase candidates that contain an embedded GPA at a specific point—how many other phrases could replace MOVIN[G PA]RT as 10-letter phrases with GPA in spots 6, 7, and 8, for example?
Some of the GPA phrases are terrifically fresh—BEG PARDON crosses DOG-PADDLES, and [Formulator of the exclusion principle] WOLFGANG PAULI (who??) goes to a STAG PARTY. The SWING PATH, LONG PANTS, and DRAG PARACHUTE are a bit drier. Favorite clues and fill: [Climate gaugers, in a way] are POLLS. I went with the physical climate and the earth's POLES—so close, and yet so far! HORRID, or [Absolutely atrocious], is a woefully underused word (as is TREACLY). DELETE crosses STETS in a corner that's not sure what the proofreader should be doing. I appreciate goofball vocabulary like [What a peccatophobe is afraid to do] as the clue for SIN.
Mike Shenk's alias, Maryanne Lemot, dwells in the byline of this week's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Convenient Cash." Each theme entry has a convenient ATM inserted into its midst. My favorites among the theme entries are as follows: Flapdoodle + ATM is a FLAT MAP DOODLE, or [Cartographer's sketch, but not for a globe?]. A combover + ATM is a COMBAT MOVER, or [Tank?]; this one I like because of the combover action. Honeybee + ATM is "HONEY, BEAT ME," a [Masochist's request to his sweetheart?]—a tad outré for a business-oriented newspaper, not that I'm judging anyone. Most troublesome clue for me: QUIBBLE is [Small grouse]. If you think of grousing as complaining, it makes perfect sense, but if all you can think of is a bird, QUIBBLE makes no sense—and it wasn't until after I finished the puzzle and began blogging that I realized a QUIBBLE wasn't a little-known cousin of the quail.
October 16, 2008