October 28, 2008

Wednesday, 10/29

Tausig 4:25
CS 3:45
NYT 3:36
Onion 3:35
LAT 3:12
Sun untimed

(updated at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday)

The crux of Steven Zisser's New York Times crossword theme lies in the clues. The trick those clues play isn't usually so prominent in a Wednesday puzzle, which strives to be more challenging than Monday but not so vexing that it scares people off. If you've seen the flower = "something that flows, a flow-er" trick before, you know what's happening in the theme clues:

  • A [Meteor shower] that might show meteors is the PLANETARIUM. Chicago is home to the Adler Planetarium, which still needs a new projector because that congressional earmark you may have heard about never actually made it through.
  • [Country bowers] using a long-O bow to play their instruments are FIDDLE PLAYERS.
  • [Farm towers] aren't silos but TEAMS OF HORSES, which may tow a plow on a farm.
  • The main [South American flower] that flows is the AMAZON RIVER.
Clues and answers I liked:
  • [What subjects and verbs should do] is AGREE. Grammar, usage, and mistakes involving them are the topic of the NYT blog After Deadline.
  • ["Lady Love" singer Lou] made me laugh because my first thought was Lou Dobbs and not Lou RAWLS.
  • A LIFESAVER candy is a [Holey confection]. Thank you, crossword, for not describing Swiss cheese as a "confection." You had me scared for a moment.
  • [Fife and Frank] are fictional and real BARNEYS. Barney Rubble feels left out.
  • HALF-MAST is clued [Flag's position, at times]. If you want to impress a nerd, use the term half-staff unless you're talking about a flag on a ship.
  • [Glen Bell's fast food] is TACOS. Did you know Taco Bell was started by a Mr. Bell? I should start Taco Reynaldo, and Will Shortz should found Taco Shortz. Let us not think of SPOOR, or an [Animal's trail], when we're eating tacos.
If you're fairly new to solving Wednesday puzzles, here are some words you should know:
  • ["The Cloister and the Hearth" novelist] is named READE. This may be ironic, because I'm not sure I know anyone who's read Reade.
  • The 3-letter [Southeast Asian] answer is LAO.
  • An OAR is a [Trireme tool]. Triremes and biremes are ships with three and two sets of oars on a side, respectively.
  • TERNS are [Fork-tailed flyers], essentially small seagulls. Don't confuse them with the ERNE or ERN, which is a sea eagle. These critters are the crossword's favorite seabirds.
  • The last name of [Susan of "L.A. Law"] is DEY. She also played Laurie Partridge on The Partridge Family, but I haven't seen her in anything lately.
  • ALAR may be clued as [Wing-shaped] or as a banned apple spray.
  • The [One-named artist] called ERTE is mostly clued as an Art Deco artist/designer/name/notable.
  • A [Narrow inlet] is called a RIA.
Laura Sternberg's Sun crossword plays around with anagrams. CRAZY HORSE, the Sioux chief, anchors the puzzle, and crazy anagrams of HORSE appear hidden within the other theme answers. For example, CULTURE SHOCK contains RESHO in the circled squares, and those letters unscramble to make HORSE, and the other theme entries' circled letters are also anagrams of HORSE.

My favorite clues and answers:
  • HEP C is short for hepatitis C, a [Liver disease, for short].
  • [Note that Kenny G held for 45 minutes, 47 seconds]. Was this during a concert? Because that sounds terribly dull to listen to.
  • BEE is clued as [Correspondent Samantha of "The Daily Show"]. She's hilarious.
  • [Anchors can be seen on them] means NEWSCASTS and not something nautical. Crosswords have too much nautical business as it is.
  • Thomas EDISON was a [Light-headed person]. Wait, this isn't a favorite clue. It's a clue I don't quite grasp. Because the idea for electric lightbulbs came from his head? 
  • [Closely examine the figures] clues OGLE, so those figures aren't financial data. Nobody ogles those.
I didn't notice that the Across Lite timer was stopped when I opened the puzzle, so I didn't start the timer. Whoops.


Steven Ginzburg's LA Times crossword includes a selection of window treatments in the theme entries. The theme's not super-tight as the window treatments land in the middle, end, beginning, and end of the theme answers. Ginzburg's batch of phrases is:
  • TURNED A BLIND EYE, or [Pretended not to see, with "to")
  • NIGHTSHADE, or [Belladonna or bittersweet].
  • SHUTTERBUG, or [One on a shooting spree?].
  • THE FINAL CURTAIN, or [End of a Broadway run, figuratively].
Now, all four theme entries could have started with a window treatment: BLIND AS A BAT and CURTAIN CALL are both 11's and SHUTTERBUG and SHADE TREES are 10's. We'd lose the 15's and end up with fewer theme squares, though.

Of course, a theme this flexible has also been done before. I searched for CURTAINCALL in the Cruciverb.com database and found two similar themes—Fred Piscop's 12/8/01 CrosSynergy, with BLIND ALLEY and SHADE OF BLUE joining CURTAIN CALL and SHUTTERBUG; and Lee Weaver's 6/15/99 Newsday, with two 11's and two 9's. Mind you, this is no slam on Ginzburg's puzzle today. Crossword constructors do tend to play with language in many of the same ways, so several are likely come up with the same theme idea independently. You wouldn't want to see the same theme reworked in the same venue just months apart, but for versions of a theme to be published in different venues or separated by years? Not a problem.

Hey! What do you know? Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Compression Chamber," has a variation on a Lynn Lempel theme I remember well. For my book, How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, I delineated my step-by-step solving of Lynn's 4/24/06 NYT crossword, which had two of the same theme entries as Randy's puzzle today. Here's what Randy has:
  • ORANGE CRUSH is a [Fruit-flavored soda]. Lynn had that answer in her theme, too, and I like its freshness in both puzzles.
  • MAIN SQUEEZE is a [Favorite girlfriend or boyfriend, in slang]. Terrific entry.
  • ACORN SQUASH is a [Thanksgiving side dish] that was also in Lynn's NYT.
  • MONSTER MASH was a [Dance novelty of the 1960s]. Fun answer.
Lynn's stand-ins for SQUEEZE and MASH were two 10-letter phrases, LEMON TWIST and the delightful CAP'N CRUNCH. Favorite clues and answers today: [It has its pluses and minuses] for MATH; HOT TUNA was a [Rock group spun off from Jefferson Airplane] (thank you, crossword answer, for not being the abysmal Starship); [King of pop music] for CAROLE King (I've seen this clue before, but I still love the Michael Jackson mislead); and [Work on a sentence?] for DO TIME (not EDIT). The toughest clue for me was [Apt. ad abbr.] for EIK (eat-in-kitchen). Cluing HAREMS as [Women's groups] sat wrong with me—the clue had me thinking of feminism and then HAREMS came along and depressed me.

Hah! After the Cubs were eliminated from postseason play yet again, I texted Tyler Hinman and pretty much laid the blame squarely at his feet. After all, he had lived in Wrigleyville at the beginning of the baseball season, but then moved to California and jinxed the Cubs. Tyler's reaction to the Cubs' loss was not to accept responsibility, but rather to construct an Onion A.V. Club crossword focusing on baseball's sad sacks. The [Hard-luck subject of this puzzle] is 20-Across, the CHICAGO CUBS. The rest of the theme clues cross-reference 20-Across. There's the BILLY GOAT and its CURSE; hapless STEVE / BARTMAN; the DODGERS, who shattered the Cubs' hopes this fall; and NINETEEN OH EIGHT, [The last time 20-Across won it all]. Every single one of these answers was a gimme for me. Tossed in without regard for symmetry are the bonus entries TRIB, the [Newspaper that owns 20-Across, familiarly], and the Cubs' AGE-LONG wait for another championship. Speaking of symmetry, did you notice that this puzzle has left/right symmetry rather than the typical rotational symmetry most crosswords have?

Most surprising answer: HYMEN, clued as innocuously as possible with [Maidenhead]. Toughest clues, for me: [Moirae (Greek) or Parcae (Roman)] for the FATES; [Satanist LaVey] for ANTON; [Beetle's bane] for SARGE (from the "Beetle Bailey" comic strip); [Chief Lone Wolf and his people] for KIOWAS. Favorite clues: [Unit of force?] for COP; [Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James] IHA, because I bought his sweet, RETRO solo CD in the '90s; and [On the clock?] for TIMED, the way Tyler, I, and many of you solve most crosswords.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "October Surprise," has a 15x15 variation on the theme that was in the 21x21 syndicated LA Times crossword this past Sunday: BOO is added to assorted phrases to alter their meaning.
  • BEE BOOSTING is clued as [Working for the apiarist's lobby?]. Bee sting + BOO.
  • [Rule regarding seabirds?] is a BOOBY LAW, building on bylaw. (Boobies' most striking representatives are the blue-footed and red-footed birds.)
  • Ban deodorant expands into BABOON DEODORANT, a [Source of lavender scent from the primate cage?].
  • Rapper T-Pain yields BOOT PAIN, or the [Result of failing to break in your Timberlands?].
  • The [Leading final car?] is the HEAD CABOOSE.
In the "not in your daily newspaper" category, we have an ENEMA, or [Colon cleanser, perhaps]; CYBERSEX, or [Second Life hookup]; STD clued as [Result of a rubber shortage?: Abbr.]; and ESG, a [Much-sampled South Bronx band]. You know, editors clean up punctuation. Are we colon cleansers too? REBAG ([Organize differently, as groceries]) looks like one of those terrible made-up verbs, and yet who among us has never rebagged our groceries at least a little, especially at the self checkout? KRUMPS is another answer that isn't likely to pop up in the daily paper's crossword. It's clued as [Dances in a clown suit, perhaps], and I'm not sure what it says about me that with the P and S in place, my first answer there was STRIPS. That's got to be worse than mixing up Lou Dobbs and Lou Rawls.