October 21, 2008

Wednesday, 10/22

Tausig 5:05
Onion 4:22
Sun 3:33
NYT 2:55
LAT 3:06
CS 2:55

(updated at 10 a.m. Wednesday)

There've been other puzzles with similar themes, I think, but Gary Whitehead sets his New York Times crossword above the usual Wednesday pack in a few ways. There are two unifying entries, 68- and 70-Across, spelling out BED and SIZE. The other four theme entries are particularly colorful phrases that end with bed sizes:

  • SIAMESE TWIN is what [Eng, for one] was.
  • The colloquial [Bar request] is "MAKE MINE A DOUBLE."
  • That [1951 film named for a boat] is THE AFRICAN QUEEN.
  • The ["Circle of Life" musical] is THE LION KING, both a Disney film and a stage musical.
A noun phrase, a spoken phrase, a movie title, and a musical make for a livelier foursome than, say, four noun phrases. Further adding to this puzzle's fun is MR. SULU, a [Crewmate of Capt. Kirk] in Star Trek. (Mr. Sulu's portrayer, George Takei, recently married his longtime partner in California.) I do tend to enjoy crosswords that are packed with names, and this one has Mounts ARARAT and ETNA, the [Nile Valley region] of NUBIA, THAI food, and NATAL the [Brazilian seaport] in the category of place names; some people who aren't real, the [Poe maiden] LENORE, MOE'S Tavern from The Simpsons, [Don Juan's mother] INEZ, and an ADONIS; and real people from the arts (Dr. DRE, Lucy LIU, EFREM Zimbalist, ED AMES, E. M. FORSTER the ["Howards End" novelist], Anthony QUINN, LUKAS Haas, and James AGEE), sports (Max BAER, ILIE Nastase), business (T. ROWE Price), and history (ALS [Capp and Capone], BIBI Netanyahu). I know a preponderance of names in the grid gives some people fits, and that's why not every puzzle is as crowded with names as this one.

Samuel Donaldson's Sun crossword, "Threepeats," concocts three phrases that contain a 3-letter sequence tripled, with those consecutive 3-letter pieces split across words:
  • [Technical problem with Amazon's e-book reader?] is KINK IN KINDLE.
  • [Finest feed for horses?] is TOP-SHELF ALFALFA.
  • [Asian city-state's evils?] are SINS IN SINGAPORE.
  • [Put trust in the Lone Ranger's friend?] is COUNT ON TONTO.
In the fill, highlights include SNAIL MAIL, PINOT NOIR clued as [Wine featured in "Sideways"] (Paul Giamatti's Miles prefers that varietal to merlot: "If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any f*cking Merlot!"), NAPTIME, and two old comics names (SLUGGO and THE ASP). Favorite clue: [Adjective or adverb, e.g.] for NOUN. I have never once had [Drinks made with sweetened spiced liquor and eggs]—those are FLIPS. I know LODI is a California town, but didn't know that it's also a [Song on Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Green River" album].


Robert Doll's LA Times puzzle teaches us some marine biology, as each theme entry begins with a SHARK. That unifying answer, SHARK, is clued [Ocean predator, of which there are five types starting this puzzle's longest answers]. Here are the beasties:
BULL MOOSE was [Teddy Roosevelt's party]. Bull sharks attack people near shore, and they can tolerate fresh water in rivers. Their range spans the globe.
TIGER IN YOUR TANK is the [End of an Esso ad metaphor]. Tiger sharks are also huge, they attack people, and they're found all around the world.
[Golfer's greenside choice] is the SAND WEDGE club. Sand sharks are a good bit smaller, and they're also known as ragged tooth sharks. A friend of mine went diving in a shark cage off the coast of South Africa to see these sharks.
LEMON TORTE is a [Tangy dessert] I'd take a pass on. What's a lemon shark? This.
NURSE BETTY is a [Renee Zellweger title role]. I never knew how nurse sharks got their name. They sound nurturing, don't they? "Nurse sharks are so-called because their method of feeding on prey larger than their mouths is to bite down and slowly suck the prey's flesh down their throats." Yow!
This crossword's a good example of what a Wednesday puzzle should be—Its theme isn't too obvious, and the overall fill and cluing hit right at a medium Wednesday level.

The CrosSynergy crossword by Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke is called "Fasten-ating" because each theme entry ends with a kind of fastener:
  • BRAZIL NUT is [Part of some trail mixes]. Just one nut? This may be a small serving of trail mix.
  • [One on the outside of a skyscraper, perhaps] is a WINDOW WASHER.
  • A [Determined way to fight] is TOOTH AND NAIL.
  • Jamaican sprinter USAIN BOLT [became the world's fastest man at the 2008 Beijing Olympics].
Nuts and bolts are hardware fasteners, as are washers and nails. The mighty screw did not make the cut today. Can you think of a good phrase that ends with SCREW, that doesn't use the hardware meaning of the word, and that passes the breakfast test better than LET'S SCREW? None of the other theme entries are compound words, so I don't think corkscrew works.

Deb Amlen's Onion A.V. Club crossword opens with a really long clue for 1-Across—the sort of clue that Across Lite doesn't display well. That clue reads [Start of an open letter from the puzzle constructor: ["Dear ___, you seem a bit confused about what the V.P. does every day, so here are some helpful hints..."]. Two pieces of advice are conveyed in the four longest entries in the crossword: CAST TIE-BREAKING / VOTES IN SENATE and ASK HOW MCCAIN / FEELS HEALTH-WISE. 50-Down is [End of the letter: "Thanks for the laugh. I'm voting for Obama/___."], or BIDEN. Heh. In the rest of the puzzle, here are my favorite spots:
  • HARD G is a [Feature of Greece but not Germany?].
  • The [Federal law ensuring public access to records: Abbr.] is FOIA, short for Freedom of Information Act. I wonder why this isn't used more often in crosswords—it feels well-known enough to me.
  • HAUTBOY is an [Archaic oboe]. Hey, I learned this one from other crosswords. Did you know that oboe and hautboy share the same etymology? Hautbois is French for high + wood, and the Italians wrenched oboe out of that.
  • ART is clued as [__ Vandelay (George Costanza pseudonym)], from Seinfeld.
I have no idea who ["Step by Step" actress Keanan], or STACI, is. Here's her Wikipedia pageStep by Step was a '90s sitcom I didn't watch. Boy, crossword constructors need someone named STACI to become really famous.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword provides a theme hint in its title, "On the House." I misinterpreted that hint, though, and was perplexedly wondering how the word HOUSE or something like it might correspond to theme answers like WEIGHT RANGE and HAND PRESS. The secret's down at 69-Across, where the [Word that may precede twelve words in this puzzle's grid] is FREE. The six long Across answers are all two-word phrases in which each word can follow free. What ramped up the challenge level was the dryness and non-obviousness of the theme entries. WEIGHT RANGE is clued as [Ring category], but it would've been easier with "boxing ring" in the clue to make it more specific. [Gutenberg device] is a HAND PRESS, but the popular term is "printing press." A [Government employee] is a STATE AGENT, but who calls them that? [Likely purchasing demographic] is the MARKET BASE, but those of us who aren't in retail don't much think about market bases, do we? VERSE FORM is a [Rhythmic composition]; I've never heard the term before. [Contemplative guy] is a THINKING MAN. Favorite clues: [Record weakeners of a sort] are ASTERISKS in sports record books. The KKK is the [Org. that suggests Obama's success is attributable to his being half-white]. POSHER is clued as [More likely to have heated floors, e.g.]—hey, I stayed in the lovely Hope Street Hotel in Liverpool, which heated the rooms via the floors. No icky carpeting! Despite a visit to England, [Legendary cricketer Brian] LARA is not a name I know. (He's from Trinidad.)