October 31, 2008

Saturday, 11/1

NYT 6:10
Newsday 5:48
LAT 4:24
CS 3:18

(updated at 11:11:11 Saturday morning)

Wow, talk about your weird Halloween experiences. We were driving home from the friends' neighborhood where we went trick-or-treating (and adult trick-or-treaters could tap the keg at one house), and found ourselves in ridiculously heavy traffic—the sort of traffic that turns a 10-minute trip into a half-hour one. The kid needed some protein after an evening of candy snacking, so we were heading towards the local McDonald's—which is the one in the heart of Wrigleyville. Holy cow, are there a lot of Halloween revelers bar-hopping tonight. I had no idea it was such mayhem. So anyway, the McDonald's drive-through was taking forever. Just when the line finally scooched forwards, a young red-haired man in a Ronald McDonald costume (of sorts) roller-skated up to our car and handed over a hamburger. Turns out no, he doesn't work there; he just wanted to complete his costume by ordering 50 burgers to go. You know what happens when one customer orders 50 burgers? All the other customers kinda have to wait. But with a free burger to eat while waiting...not so terrible any more.

But you didn't come here to hear about bizarre Halloween disbursements of hamburgers. Crosswords! This week's Thursday NYT was just a regular themed puzzle of medium difficulty, and the Halloween puzzle was just a regular Friday themeless. The gimmick was stored up for the Saturday New York Times puzzle by Donald Willing. In the middle of the puzzle, we have TWO-WAY STREETS spelled backwards, as STEERTSYAWOWT: [Many thoroughfares...or what this puzzle's Across answers consist of?] Every other row of Acrosses runs from right to left, as if the traffic is going back and forth from one side of the puzzle to the other as it travels down through the grid. It took me a long time to notice that every answer in a given Across row ran backwards, and that the backwards action occupied every other row. Two kinds of fun! I loved the twist on convention here.

There are two more theme entries, both running in the standard direction: [Detours] are ALTERNATE ROUTES and a [Possible result of an appeal] is a REVERSE DECISION. My favorite backwards business:

  • Pepsi backwards is ISPEP; [Its slogan was once "More bounce to the ounce"].
  • An [Aid in avoiding the draft?] around your neck is a scarf, or FRACS in reverse.
  • [Mass communication?] is in Latin, or NITAL.
  • [Cousin of a hyacinth] is a tulip, or PILUT.
  • Omigod, crosswordese rivers running upstream! The [Rhone feeder] is the Isere, or ERESI backwards.
  • Both adopt ([Take on]) and adept ([Crackerjack]) travel in reverse, and TPODA and TPEDA look bizarre in the grid.
And here's the forward stuff I liked best:
  • [It's often laid on someone else] refers to BLAME.
  • [Infernal], as in hellish, means NETHER, as in the netherworld.
  • [Start of many rappers' stage names] is LIL. Lil' Kim, Lil' Jon, Lil' C-Style, Lil' Eazy-E, Lil' ½-Dead, Lil' iROCC Williams, Lil' Keke, Lil' Mama, Lil' O, Lil' Romeo, Lil' Abner...shall I go on? (Most of them I hadn't heard of—found them in Wikipedia.)
  • [Like Venus vis-a-vis Mercury] is HOTTER. 
  • [Cranes constructing homes, e.g.] aren't construction equipment—they're birds who are NESTERS.
  • [Unable to hit pitches?] is TONE-DEAF. Hey, that's me!
  • [Total alternative] made me think of laundry detergent, but I was probably thinking of All. Total's a breakfast cereal, and so are WHEATIES.
  • I don't recall seeing [Stanzaic salute] as a clue for ODE before. Stanzaic is a word? It is indeed.


A few years ago someone told me that Stan Newman's "S.N." byline was reserved for the very toughest Newsday "Saturday Stumper" crosswords, so there was some trepidation as I printed out the puzzle. As it happened, though, the puzzle was on the easy to medium side of the Stumper spectrum. (PDF solution here.) There were some knotty crossings:
  • [Police Academy study] is TEN-CODE. I didn't know there were any "10-__" options besides 10-4, but there are more than a hundred of them. Actually, that one didn't really give me trouble with the crossings. I was reading the ['30s employer of the Marxes] clue (MGM) when I needed the [Top club] one (ACE in a deck of cards).
  • Steve KROFT of 60 Minutes was a [Lifetime Achievement Emmy recipient of '03]. I had drama and comedy in mind, not news, so I was stumped with the KRO in place. Crosser 49-Down was a dreaded "name that note" clue, [Tough key for pianists]. Something-SHARP, but if you don't know music well, you've got seven letters to choose among. It's F-SHARP here, and 50-Down is TEENER, clued as [Youth]. Nobody calls 'em "teeners," of course.
I learned that SRI is a [Title that means "wealth"]. I already knew that PEZ was a [Name derived from the German for "peppermint"]—Pfefferminz. Two other trivia bits: ["Beauty superhuman" in a 17th-century novel] is DULCINEA; ZAPATA was the [Oil company founded by George H.W. Bush]. I love the word NONESUCH, or [Paragon].

Robert Wolfe's LA Times crossword feels like it has a theme, since all three 15-letter answers are spoken phrases.
  • SEE ME AFTER CLASS is a [Teacher's request]. Much better than the shorter SEE ME that pops up in more crosswords.
  • THAT'S MORE LIKE IT is clued with ["Now you're talking!"].
  • YOU'RE NOT KIDDING is ["How true!"].
But the phrases are unrelated, so they're just the zest in this themeless. Clues of note, cool answers, etc.:
  • [Beethoven's Fifth, e.g.] is a WAR HORSE. A real horse? No; this page says the symphony's performed so often it's a war horse.
  • [Colombian carrier] is AIRES? That's a new one for me.
  • [Bush Cabinet member] is CHENEY. Wait, the V.P. counts as a Cabinet member? According to this, Cheney, the White House Chief of Staff, and four others have cabinet-level rank, but the Cabinet proper consists of all the Secretaries of ___ and the Attorney General.
  • I like the phrase RUE THE DAY, clued here as [Wish one hadn't].
  • [Muse emanation?] was making no sense to me until the crossings filled in "HMM..."
  • [Face extraction] is ORE, not a ZIT, thankfully.
  • ["Wonder Woman" regular ___ Candy] is ETTA. Yet another ETTA to store away in the memory banks for future crosswords.
  • [Linen tape used in trimming] is INKLE. I've seen ISTLE and INGLE in crosswords before, but never INKLE.
  • FELT FAINT feels non-crossword-ready as a phrase, as if FELT could be followed by any of hundreds of adjectives. The clue's [Reacted to bad news, in a way].
  • I hope people know TOM CONTI's last name ([1979 Tony winner for "Whose Life Is It Anyway?"]), because otherwise the intersecting Roman numeral could make for a knotty crossing. [Year in the reign of St. Gregory I] is DCI.
The theme in Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy crossword, "RV Park," is phrases with R.V. initials:
  • RICE VINEGAR is a [Condiment used in Chinese salads].
  • RESIDUAL VALUE is [What remains at the end of an object's useful life].
  • [The ultimate decider] is a REGISTERED VOTER. I can't believe the powers that be didn't introduce widespread early voting before this year. Genius! So much more workable than one set day—if you can't get time away from work, if the weather is horrible, if you get the flu or break your foot, the first Tuesday in November might not work for you.
  • A [Tasty tuber] is a ROOT VEGETABLE.
  • [Its past tense is formed by adding -ed] refers to a REGULAR VERB. Irregular verbs are so much more fun, unless you're a kid or second-language learner wrestling with all those English oddities.