October 02, 2008

Friday, 10/3

NYT 6:26
Sun 5:13
LAT 4:53
CHE 4:28
CS 3:03
WSJ 7:23

Here's how my evening went: I solved the Sun puzzle and drafted the second part of this blog post. Then I started watching the debate around 8:40 (DVR-assisted), but had to rewind when my husband returned to the living room. Then it was NYT crossword time, and my husband wanted an explanation right then about the various metrics on screen on CNN. Dude! I'm trying to do a crossword here! I finished the puzzle and then spent the next two hours watching the debate and reading the early reactions. Now I have to review the crossword again to blog about it, but my mind's been filled with other stuff for the last two hours. One thing I learned in the interim: Bosniak or Bosniac is indeed a word. All sorts of pinheads on the internet are talking about that as if it's a gaffe, but Biden does know his foreign policy. That's my new word for the day.

The New York Times crossword by Harvey Estes features triple-stacked 15-letter entries at the top and bottom of the grid:

  • An [Unforgettable edible] is a DISH FIT FOR A KING. Man, it took me too long to piece that one together.
  • [Concern of a certain federal commissioner] is INTERNAL REVENUE.
  • [Fission boat?] clues an ATOMIC SUBMARINE.
  • [On account (of)] equates to IN CONSIDERATION (of).
  • TO A LESSER EXTENT means [Not so much].
  • STREET ADDRESSES are [usually even on one side].
Tough stuff:
  • [Capital on the Rimac River] is LIMA. Also in the category of geography, PISA is a [City noted for its campanile]. Also in the category of PI*A words is PINA, a [Tropical fruit, in Toledo]. Not Toledo, Ohio (and not Lima, Ohio)—Toledo, Spain, where piña means "pineapple."
  • [Opium product] is CODEINE, but I started with COCAINE there.
  • With a couple crossings, [His chariot was drawn by four fire-breathing horses] gets a lot easier. It's ARES. (Without the crossings? Oy.)
  • [Of blood] clues HEMATIC. That word doesn't get a lot of play. Hematologic gets much more use.
  • [Drawing device] is a FLUE.
  • [N.F.L. cornerback Starks] is named DUANE. Never heard of him.
  • [Longtime "Days of Our Lives" actress Jones] is named RENEE. Don't know her. But guess what? Ty Treadway, erstwhile Merv Griffin's Crosswords host, is once again playing Colin McIver on One Life to Live. According to that issue recap, "Colin" appears as a game-show host in another character's deathbed dream.
Favorite clues: To [Be in the red for black and tans] is to RUN A TAB at a bar. A PICNIC is a [Take-out meal?]. [Good day?: Abbr.] is FRI, as in Good Friday. KERNELS are what's meant in [They cover the ears]. [You might exchange words with them] refers to INITIALS, as in exchanging United States for U.S. [Head pieces] are JAWS—this one's kinda weird, but the maxilla and mandible are indeed parts in the plural. An ARIA is an [Unlikely number for a rock concert]. RENT-A-CAR is [National service] in that National is a car rental agency. And [One stripping on a kitchen counter] refers not to any scene in Fatal Attraction but rather, to a PARER of vegetables.

Karen Tracey's Sun crossword, a themeless "Weekend Warrior," posed a strange challenge. It had far more than the usual quotient of things I absolutely didn't know, and yet the crossings and some judicious guessing allowed me to complete the puzzle in a decent amount of time. Without further ado, the biggest mysteries to me:
  • An [Aztec god of the sun and war] is HUITZILOPOCHTLI. That's 15 letters of unknowingness!
  • A [Fancy indoor headpiece for a woman] is a MOB CAP. A what? One of these quaint old colonial things, or a modern OR cap.
  • I know there's a bassoon and a bass sax, but the BASS OBOE? That's a [Low wind] I wasn't hip to.
  • I knew [Joseph Ratzinger, today] was the current pope, but not his Roman numeral. ("When in Rome...") He's POPE BENEDICT XVI.
  • [Salmon roe, at a sushi restaurant] is called IKURA. I don't do sushi or roe, and this word hasn't been in as many crosswords as, say, UNAGI. I dredged Alexei KOSYGIN out of a dusty corner of the noggin to get the K in IKURA.
  • [Engine driver in a Who song] is IVOR. Wha...? Five seconds into the YouTube video of "The Quick One, While He's Away," my husband came into the room, already reciting the opening words with Pete and Roger. He's a big Who fan, but I've never even heard of this song.
Let's take a moment to talk about the construction itself. This puppy's got 70 words, which gives Karen some leeway to pack it with some cool entries. You see the black square above 15-Down, OPART, and its counterpart below 44-Down, PAINS? Many people in the business call those "cheaters" because if they were white squares, the puzzle would still have the same total word count (but the answers that intersect in those squares would each be a letter longer). Rich Norris, editor of the Los Angeles Times crossword, said he calls 'em "helpers": because that's what they do, they help the constructor devise a better fill for the puzzle. I like that reframing.

So, what's the cool stuff? There's the JOFFREY BALLET down the middle, clued a bit misleadingly as [Chicago company] as if it were part of the business community in the Windy City. The J is shared by JOLT COLA, whose C is also part of a SCHMEAR of cream cheese. French geography gets the COTE D'OR ([Department in France's Bourgogne region]). And my favorite answer is FAT ALBERT, clued as a [Friend of Dumb Donald]. I enjoyed the clues, my favorites being these:
  • [Relative of Wednesday] is Uncle FESTER of The Addams Family.
  • [Literally, "first generation"] is the Japanese term ISSEI. Nisei is "second generation," and sansei is "third generation," used to refer to North Americans with Japanese-born grandparents.
  • OPUS from Bloom County is the [Penguin of the comics]. There's also a Sunday-only strip called Opus.
  • [Rite performed on the eighth day of life] is the BRIS. I went to my first and probably only bris a few years ago.
  • [Salmon tail?] is ELLA, as in Salmonella. My grandparents were friends with a couple named Sam and Della. I always thought they sounded pathogenic.
  • [Child's gadget] is a RICER if the Child in question is Julia.
A big thanks to Peter Gordon for committing to releasing online the backlog of Sun gems like this one.


Donna Levin's LA Times crossword changes C__ words into CH__ words in the quintet of theme entries:
  • [Conversation between King Mongkut and Tuptim?] is a SIAMESE CHAT.
  • [Picking, peeling or polishing?] is an APPLE CHORE.
  • [Jean Valjean's plea to Javert?] might have been GET OFF MY CHASE.
  • [Payroll officer?] is a SALARY CHAP. Well, when the payroll officer is male, I suppose.
  • [Muhammad Ali's coach?] is an AIDE-DE-CHAMP. If you're looking for champs, Ali's the go-to guy, isn't he?

There's plenty of fill in the 6- to 8-letter range, and plenty of clues that left me wondering.
  • [Early L.A. Times bigwig Harrison Gray ___] is OTIS. I knew that Otis Chandler was one of the LA Times family bigwigs, but didn't know his first name was a family name.
  • [Nevada's largest county] shares a name with the Science Guy on PBS: NYE.
  • [Joe Sixpack] has been bandied about in politics of late. Why did it take so long for me to tease out EVERYMAN?
  • [Blake who played Aunt Harriet on TV's "Batman"] is MADGE. The only Madges I know are the '70s-'80s Palmolive commercial one and the Madonna nickname.
  • [Toon with a cat named Bowser] is Mister MAGOO.
  • ["Ready" signal of a kind] is a DIAL TONE.
  • [State treasury] clues FISC. Huh? Is that a regional thing, calling the state treasury FISC? The clue doesn't hint at an abbreviation.
  • What's a [Fleche]? It's a STEEPLE. I had no idea.
My favorite clue is the one for HIC: [Sound resulting from a synchronous diaphragm flutter]. SHEA gets a historical clue, [2000 World Series venue]. Now that the stadium's being replaced by Citifield, look for more past-tense SHEA clues. SPAM is the [Product with its own museum in Minnesota]—southern Minnesota's Austin, to be specific. My mother just vacationed in Austin.

Michael Ashley's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Space Invaders," is a trivia crossword focusing on American space missions, in celebration of the 50th birthday of NASA (61-Across) this week. The eight theme entries are short but blanket the puzzle in symmetrical spots, as you can see from my solution grid (I added circles for the thematic parts). I'm sure NASA missions captivate many of you, but this theme didn't move me. Favorite clue: [Drew upon one's notes?] for DOODLED. I also liked the clue for MOP, [Their heads are generally kept down].The word LOANS is clued as [Subprime offerings]; this includes subprime credit cards as well as mortgages. I don't know if those sources of credit have dried up this fall.

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy crossword, "The End of an Argument," was a good bit easier than the other Friday puzzles. 55-Down, or WORD, anchors the puzzle: [The last one ends an argument and can be attached to the last one of 21-, 31-, 40-, and 50-Across]. The clue's forced to be clunky to avoid using the word word in a clue for WORD. The first theme answer is IGNITION KEY, or [Car starter], which gives us a key word. FORWARD PASS, or [Quarterback's option], yields a password. The SAFETY CATCH, or [Secure bracelet clasp], produces a catchword. DOUBLE CROSS is an [Act of betrayal] and hey! this one gives us a crossword.

Myles Callum's Wall Street Journal puzzle is called "Liquid Assets" because the letters in the word ASSET appear in that order within each theme entry. Those theme entries are are all clued with [Liquid asset for ___] phrases, but the answers aren't all things that could be considered "liquid assets." [Liquid asset for what a burgler does], for example, is CASES THE JOINT. So the "liquid asset" part of the clue isn't meant to have a meaning aside from signaling the liquidity of the spaced-out ASSETs. My favorite clues were [It's no salt shaker] for a CALM SEA and [Baby berths?] for UTERI. Answers I liked best included TRAIPSE, MR. DEEDS and MR TOAD, THE BOSS, and ELIOT NESS. I thought the puzzle would've fallen faster than it did, given that I was able to enter the ASSET letters in all the theme entries early on, but maybe going ahead and entering those letters wasted time better spent answering the clues.