November 14, 2008

Saturday, 11/15

Newsday 20:22
NYT 4:29
LAT 4:08
CS 3:20

(updated at 2:30 Saturday afternoon)

If I ran the world, I think I'd start a crossword tournament in which all of the puzzles were themeless. Or I'd persuade Will Shortz to run a side tournament during the ACPT, an all-themeless alternative event. I think it'd be a ton of fun.

Karen Tracey's 68-word themeless New York Times crossword was easier for me than the Thursday Sun and the Friday NYT and Sun. The toughest answer to puzzle out was ALBA LONGA, [Romulus and Remus's legendary birthplace]. I didn't know that FARO was the [Game dealt by Doc Holliday], but it's an old-timey-sounding card game so it was a plausible guess. I never encountered the plural for caduceus, but having worked in medical publishing the symbol was a familiar one—[Medical emblems] in the plural are CADUCEI.

Why am I almost always inordinately fond of Karen's crosswords? Because of fill like this:

  • SPACE JUNK is [Debris around the world?], literally. J + K = Scrabbly.
  • PRAIRIE DOG is a cool entry. Its clue, [Great Plains dweller], is probably duping at least half of the solvers into thinking of 10-letter Native American tribe names. There's a tribe elsewhere, though—PONCA is [Standing Bear's tribe], and there's a town in Oklahoma called Ponca City.
  • DONALD TRUMP and JASPER FFORDE get their full names in the grid. Trump's clue is a quote: [He said "Everything in life is luck"]. The guy with the implausible letter combinations writes the Thursday Next novels, mysteries in which sleuth Thursday Next enters fictional worlds to crack her case. In The Eyre Affair, the villain is stealing characters from English literature and it's up to Ms. Next to stop him.
  • BULLDOZER, or [Leveler], serves up a Scrabbly Z, and crosses pop culture's Tony DANZA, [Spacey's co-star in the 1999 revival of "The Iceman Cometh"].
  • The colorful term FREEBOOT means to [Maraud]. The word's etymology stems from the Dutch vrijbuiter, and who doesn't love to be reminded of kooky Dutch spellings?
  • DEEP-SIX means to [Can] or fire someone. Colloquial phrase + X = Scrabbly goodness.
Here are some other bits that might be problematic:
  • [Shape on a potter's wheel] is the verb THROW, not a noun.
  • [Heavily monitored areas: Abbr.] are ICUS, as in intensive care units.
  • ATHENA is the [Aegis bearer] in question.
  • [Sorrows experienced in life] clues the unexpected phrase, VALE OF TEARS.
  • You need a little Latin and a little French to navigate this crossword. [Flier at the Forum] is AVIS, Latin for "bird." BONO is [Good for Caesar?], Latin for "good." [Detector of les odeurs] is NEZ, French for "nose." Un HOMME is a [Grown-up garcon].
  • You could use a little religion here, too. ESAU is the [Venison preparer in the Bible]. [Hindu scripture] is a VEDA. SELAH is [Psalms interjection]. LDS, or the Mormons, are the [Denom. established in 1830].
  • [Alternative to Arkia or Israir] is EL AL. We all know El Al thanks to crosswords, but as one who's never flown to Israel, I haven't even heard of those other airlines.

Sigh. I bet today's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" by Doug Peterson isn't actually the year's toughest newspaper crossword. I bet it was just me. My family fractured my mojo by embarking on a homework spat just as I settled into the crossword, and then I hit a dead stop in the southeast corner. I was totally willing to Google my way out of the morass, but the clues weren't Googleable. (Full solution here.) It is fitting that IRRITATING and AGGRAVATED are in this puzzle, because I wasn't having any fun with it. (And usually I enjoy Doug's crosswords!) So, tell me: Was this a garden-variety tough Stumper for you, or a crazy-hard puzzle?

Here are some of the clues that gave me the most trouble outside of that Corner of Darkness:
  • [Foot predecessors] are the units of length called CUBITS.
  • [Diamond's thin edge] is ONE RUN, a thin edge in terms of baseball scores.
  • [Chiseled wd.] is ESTD., as in EST'D 1842 being chiseled onto a town hall.
  • [Gulfport group] is Y'ALL.
  • [Duke's domain] isn't about royalty or John Wayne. It's Duke University and HIGHER EDUCATION.
  • [Focus of a museum at Smithfield, North Carolina] is AVA GARDNER. All I could think of was Smithfield hams and __A GARDENS.
  • [Hand wringers] are RUERS. Sure, except that nobody actually uses the word RUERS, do they?
  • [Empty, in a way] is the verb UNBAG.
  • I just plain don't like FAIR-HAIRED's meaning of [Favored]. The term sounds inherently racist, doesn't it? "Obama is now the fair-haired boy of the Democratic Party."
  • I haven't memorized the main [Philippine island] possibilities besides Luzon, Cebu, Mindanao, and Leyte. This time it's SAMAR.
  • [Asian language group] turned out to be TAI and not LAO, my default 3-letter Asian language name.
And from the Corner of Darkness:
  • A 4-letter [Hair style] starting with F? Must be FLIP. Except that it's not a specific hairstyle, but a style of hair, I guess: FRIZ. In my book, that should be FRIZZ, and animator Friz Freleng stands at the ready to be a clue for FRIZ.
  • [Guarded] clues ULTERIOR. With the T in place from PESTLE, I couldn't help thinking this was a phrase, ON THE ___ or UP THE ___, but that approach was a nonstarter.
  • [Convince of] is TALK INTO, and [Pooh-pooh] is SNEEZE AT. TALK INTO shouldn't have been so hard for me, but I kept thinking the A was an E for some reason.
  • [Wring (out)] clues EKE. No rags being squeezed here.
  • And my #1 least favorite clue is [Hale protagonist] for NOLAN. Director Christopher Nolan and baseball great Nolan Ryan are disappointed to be shunted aside in favor of Edward Everett Hale's character Philip NOLAN (1917).

Barry Silk's LA Times crossword has a very low word count. Not freakishly low in the 50s, but still, just 62 words. It's a beautiful grid—four identical corner sections with 44 7-letter words, eight 6's, and 10 3's. Like most low-word-count grids, though, it has a lot of prefixes and word endings tacked on—a RETASTE is a [Postseason sampling?], as in sampling the food after adding seasoning, and RETRACE is [Walk over]. -ED words include UNTAMED ([Not under control], SPEARED ([Skewered]), PLEATED ([Like many a tuxedo shirt]), ERUPTED ([Blew]), and SEDATED ([Put under]). There's an -ER (STEERER, or [One driving]) and some NEEDERS ([Underprivileged ones]. And there are also a bunch of plurals.

Favorite clues: the vague [Pitch] for the noun INCLINE; [They can't be beaten] for NEMESES; [Dovekie] for AUK, just because dovekie is a cool-looking word; [Bond report?] for DOSSIER; and [Is routed by, say] for LOSES TO, because I was thinking of routing things by sending them somewhere. [Vigil site] is a rather sad clue for BEDSIDE, though—better to go with the easy [___ manner] or [Doctor's place] than to evoke hospice scenes.

Patrick Jordan (Ponca City, Oklahoma's sole crossword luminary) constructed today's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Heroic Beginnings." This year's most prominent superheroes come into play, with each theme entry starting with whatever word fills in the ___ Man blank.
  • Robert Downey, Jr., played Iron Man, and IRON MAIDEN, is the ["Somewhere in Time" metal band].
  • Spider-Man's web connects us to SPIDER MONKEY, a [Long-limbed simian].
  • The electoral SUPER TUESDAY, a [Primary season highlight], ties to the eternal Superman.
  • Batman, so outdone by the Joker in this year's blockbuster film, feeds BAT CLEAN-UP, or [Go fourth at home plate].
I'm pretty sure there was another superhero theme along these lines in the last few months, but I forget the details. This puzzle's a pangram, meaning it includes all 26 letters in the grid. There are single instances of X, Q, Z, and J, and two or more K's, V's, and Y's.