November 01, 2008

Sunday, 11/2

NYT diagramless 11:21
NYT 9:53
PI 8:41
BG 8:00
syndicated LAT 7:25
CS 3:13

(updated at noon Sunday)

Liz Gorski graces the New York Times crossword page with another of her patented graphic creations. This time, the theme in "Web Master" is Spider-Man. The graphic element is the spiderweb dangling down the middle of the grid at 25-Down ([Visual representation of what gave 115-Across special powers]), with the [SPIDER] rebus square at the bottom (represented in my solution grid as just the S in 115-Across, THE AMAZING [S]-MAN). The web's made out of a vertical string of I's. Here are the other theme entries:
24-Across. [Where you might see 115-Across] is a COMIC BOOK COVER.
38-Across. [Pumpkin bomb-throwing enemy of 115-Across, with "the"] is GREEN GOBLIN.
100-Across. [Film star who played 38-Across], the Green Goblin, is WILLEM DAFOE, in the first and second Spider-Man movies.
12-Down. [115-Across's day job] is newspaper PHOTOGRAPHER.
26-Down. [Tentacled enemy of 115-Across] is Doc Ock, full name OTTO OCTAVIUS.
47-Down. [Film star who played 26-Down], Doc Ock, is ALFRED MOLINA.
64-Down. [Film star who played 115-Across], Peter Parker and Spider-Man, is TOBEY MAGUIRE.
I've seen all three movies, so I'm not sure why it took me a while to untangle the theme. I filled in the web made out of I's fairly early on, but I had completely forgotten Doc Ock's full name and which villain Willem Dafoe played. It didn't help that THE AMAZING **** looked an awful lot like it wanted to be THE AMAZING RACE.
Aside from the nine theme entries and visual punch, this crossword also offers a few sections with plenty of white space—the upper and middle left, the middle and lower right—so there was even more to like. Among the more interesting answers in the Across dimension:

  • TAHINI is a [Falafel sandwich sauce] that's a sesame paste, and it's an ingredient in hummus.
  • GALLOWAY is a [Scottish cattle breed]. Not to be confused with Dave Garroway.
  • "PROVE IT!" is clued with ["Show me!"].
  • One [Scratch cause] is a CATFIGHT.
  • SNUGLI is a [Baby carrier brand].
  • [Singer Lauper] spells her first name CYNDI. I like her "Time After Time" song best.
  • AIGLETS are [Shoelace ends: Var.]. We usually spell 'em aglets.
  • My favorite Free To Be You and Me heroine, ATALANTA, is clued as the [Handel opera based on Greek myth].
  • [The planet Venus] clues HESPERUS because that's the poetic/literary name for the planet. (I didn't know this.)
  • I like the clue [Identify from memory] for PLACE. "I can't quite place him..."
Moving along to the Downs:
  • [10-G, e.g.: Abbr.] is an apartment number, or APT. NO.
  • I never heard of [Actor Jeremy of "North Country"], RENNER. I Googled his picture, and he doesn't look familiar either.
  • One kind of [Chewy cookie] is a MACAROON. I prefer crunchy cookies.
  • [Monet painting also known as "The Woman in the Green Dress"] is CAMILLE. Here's what it looks like. And to answer her query, yes, that dress absolutely does make her derrière look gros.
  • [Drawers in a laundry room[ may be BVDS.
  • [Mohawk, for one] is a HAIRCUT.
  • The [Setting of the painting 'Washington Crossing the Delaware"] is DAWN.
  • The answer for [Natural sweetener] is BEE HONEY. This answer sounds bogus. Is there any other kind of honey besides what comes from bees?
  • [Stake attachment, maybe] is a TETHER. When I thought the [Memo starter] was AS TO rather than ATTN, I couldn't figure out what sort of stake attachment could complete *ESHER.
  • [Girl's name meaning "happy"] is FELICE. Amy means "beloved," so I've always been fond of name meanings.
Oddly enough, this puzzle seems to have been tougher than most Sunday puzzles for most solvers, except Byron Walden's on the APPLET ([Small program]) with a time of 7:27, suggesting that this crossword is easier than most Sunday NYT's.'s not. I swear it isn't.

Updated Saturday evening:

I guess the Times forgot to print the starting-square hint in the Magazine section for this weekend's second Sunday puzzle, Patrick Blindauer's diagramless. So to remedy things, they added a big, bold-face hint on the Premium Crosswords page—where anyone who wished to download the diagramless sans hint couldn't help but see a big, bold-face spoiler. Mind you, I had been warned at the NYT forum, and even downloaded the puzzle from a spoiler-free link at the forum—and then I went to the puzzle page and boom. Spoiler. So I got off to a speedy start, with none of the usual jotting chunks of fill in the margins until I figure out where the first answer fits. 1-Across wasn't obvious to me, but 2- and 3-Down were gimmes, and soon the NW corner showed that the [Subject of this puzzle] began with {the rest of the paragraph's in white text—to view it, click and drag over it with your mouse} PINO. The other theme clues made it clear that 19-Across was a character, so PINOCCHIO came to mind. Pet goldfish CLEO, check. His father, GEPPETTO. Plus WISH UPON A STAR, MONSTRO the whale, and JIMINY / CRICKET—having a familiar theme helps those big swaths get filled in. When the whole puzzle was done, I couldn't tell what the diagram's pattern was, so I darkened the black squares with a pen. Oh! It's a little blocky wooden Pinocchio, complete with an elongated nose. Cute! I'm partial to diagramless crosswords that create a picture of something.

Here's the complete solution grid, in text. Again, the letters are white—if you haven't done this puzzle because you're leery of diagramless crosswords and think you haven't got the skills for them, I want you to give it a try anyway. If you're an NYT crossword subscriber, the link at the top of this post will let you download the Across Lite file without seeing that spoiler.

Z I N G * D A M P * E C L A T * *
I D O L * U S E R * T O E L E S S
P I N O C C H I O * O N T A R I O
* * * V A T * R A P * J I M I N Y
C A W E D * * * M E R * T O Y * *
L U I S * * * * * Z O A * * A X E
E T S * * * * * * * C R I C K E T
O O H S * * * * * V O L T A I R E
* P U P * * * * * I C E I N * * *
Y I P E * * * * * M O N S T R O *
A L O E * * * * * * * * * * E M I
P O N D* * * * * A R A C H N I D
S T A B * * * * * G E P P E T T O
* * S U M O * W H I T E S E A * *
B A T M A N * C O L U M N * C U B
E L A P S E * S T E R E O * A K A
G A R B * * * * * * N N W * R E D

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Wall Street's Week," takes as its inspiration the sorts of phrases the business section uses to avoid saying "rose" and "declined" in every single stock headline. For example:
  • ["My coffee stock ___"] LOST GROUND. (Coffee grounds.)
  • ["My cheddar stocks ___"] FELL SHARPLY. (Sharp cheddar cheese.)
  • ["My basketball stock ___"] WAS UP TWO POINTS. (A field goal in basketball scores two points.)
  • ["My miniskirt stocks ___"] INCHED HIGHER. (A miniskirt hem is inches higher than a skirt of non-mini dimensions.)
In the fill, I thought the two most challenging spots were near the top: ["Hurry up," to Tarzan] is UNGAWA; and [Wroclaw's German name] is BRESLAU. And then there's GORT in the middle—[The robot's name in "The Day the Earth Stood Still"]. I chose the wrong language for the [Gaza greetings] and tried SHALOMS instead of the correct SALAAMS; hey, the Arabic and Hebrew words are cognates, so I wasn't that far off.

Liz Gorski's on deck again for this weekend's Across Lite edition of the Boston Globe crossword, filling in for Cox and Rathvon. This theme, too, was a delight. In "Shifty Characters," one letter—always an R— shifts to somewhere else in a phrase, thereby doing a number on the phrase's meaning. I like the consistency of always moving the same letter, and I like the results:
  • [Satire starring actor Chris?] is THE NOTH FARCE, sliding an R over in "the North Face." Chris Noth played Mr. Big in Sex and the City and Det. Mike Logan back in the day on Law & Order.
  • The [Dawdling snob?] is a POKY PRIG, made from Porky Pig.
  • The Beatles song "I Saw Her Standing There" mutates into I SAW HER STRANDING THEE, a [Beatles hit about a jilted Quaker?]. This one made me laugh.
  • Speaking of the Beatles, "Day Tripper" changes into DRAY TIPPER, or [One who upsets the applecart?].
  • DREAD WONG plays on "dead wrong." The clue is [Fear meeting up with Suzie?].
  • BRIG BOTHERS (big brothers) are [Pests on a pirate ship?].
  • Tasty corn chips become CON CHIRPS, or [Calls from the Bird Man of Alcatraz?].
  • [Friar's blade sharpeners?] are Friar TUCK STROPS (truck stops).
  • Here's my other favorite: the [Nerdy nuptial at Phi Kappa Psi?] is MY BIG FRAT GEEK WEDDING.
  • A sure shot is transformed into SUE SHORT, or [Take action v. Martin?], meaning comedian Martin Short.
  • [King Olav in key?] is a TUNED-UP NORSE, shifting the R from "turned-up nose."
The non-thematic answers I liked best included WOODSY, or [Sylvan]; KOALA BEAR, or [Qantas mascot] (and yes, we all know that the koala and the panda are not bears); HOSPITAL clued as a [Soap setting]; "YOUR MOVE," or ["Make a play"]; EAST ASIAN, or [Like Vietnamese food]; VOCAB, or [Short word list?]; KITSCHY, [Like plastic pink flamingos]; and JEEZ, or ["Gosh..."].

Updated Sunday morning:

Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke's CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" was super-easy as themeless puzzles go. Not every word or phrase in the grid was a familiar one, but the crossings seemed to grease the wheels. Most of the answers are made of common letters (e.g., ITERANT, LOOSEST, NELLIE). Here's an olio of clues and their answers:
  • [Super hot, as Buffalo wings] means ATOMIC. Me, I don't like wings.
  • ANISE TEA is one [Aromatic herbal drink] I would not care to taste, or even to smell the fumes of.
  • EDESSA is a [City of ancient Mesopotamia] that looks like a typo for Odessa, but isn't.
  • CADETTE is clued as a [Girl Scout rank, once]. The clue may be wrong because Cadettes are 7th and 8th graders now.
  • ELLIOTT was the young [Friend of E.T.] in the movie, the kid who flushed E.T. out of hiding with Reese's Pieces.
  • LEONIA is a [Norhtern New Jersey town] I've never heard of.
Bonnie Gentry constructed today's syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword (which doesn't appear in the LA Times itself). The "Computer Connections" title ties to the embedded letters in each theme entry, DSL:
  • GOD'S LITTLE ACRE is an [Erskine Caldwell novel].
  • FORWARD SLASH is a [URL part]. Is this a retronym? We used to call it a slash until the programmer types introduced the backward slash, and now the plain ol' slash gets labeled a "forward slash."
  • TROUBLED SLEEP is a [Cause of yawning, maybe], or a result of bad dreams.
  • RECORD SLEEVE is an [Album holder].
  • FINDS LOOPHOLES means [Cracks an ironclad contract, perhaps].
  • PLAYGROUND SLIDE is clued with [Swinging may be going on near one]. Does anyone call it a playground slide, or just a slide? Usually we talk about it in context so the qualification is not needed: "My son loves to go down the slide," or "She fell off the slide."
  • SOUNDS LIKE A PLAN is something you might say to convey the same sense as ["It could work"].
  • 35-Down is the unifying entry, DSL, clues as [High-speed letters seen in this puzzle's "connections"].
Famous people wander about the grid. There's ASHLEE [Simpson with the 2005 album "I Am Me"], YMA [Sumac from Peru], and [Ann of "Private Secretary"], actress Ann SOTHERN. ["Sentimental Journey" co-composer] LES BROWN provides bonus points for constructor Bonnie Gentry since his full name appears. From sports, we have [Golfer Isao] AOKI; Larry [Bird, for one] was an NBA STAR; the [1975 Wimbledon champ] was Arthur ASHE; and skater Midori ITO was the [Nagano Olympic cauldron lighter]. [John who married Priscilla Mullins] was John ALDEN. The fictional Dana [Scully's partner] in The X-Files is Fox MULDER. [Scientology's Hubbard] is L. RON. Is Robt. E. LEE the only person whose middle initial and last name appear together in crosswords? I've seen JFOX (Michael J. Fox), but can't think of others. [Loser to Clinton] was Bob DOLE. ["Stay" singer Lisa]'s last name is LOEB; she's the singer with the horn-rimmed glasses. [Elsa raiser] is Joy ADAMSON; Elsa was the lioness in Born Free. [Britney's ex] is sometimes called K-FED; that's Kevin Federline's stage name. [Hip-hop Dr.] DRE remains a big figure in rap.