November 15, 2008

Sunday, 11/16

NYT 8:29
LAT 8:25
PI 7:39
BG 6:48
CS 5:49

All righty, folks, this is the New York Times crossword that will be on The Simpsons Sunday night, when Lisa goes to a crossword tournament; Merl Reagle and Will Shortz are celebrity guest voices, right up there with the likes of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. There is Homer's [Exclamation from a blockhead], D'OH, at 35-Across. And BART is clued as the public transit system, [Driving alternative in S.F.]. (For an actual Simpsons-themed puzzle, do Merl's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword.) The hidden message in the puzzle may be a spoiler for a plot point in the show, though it's more or less revealed in the synopsis for the episode (click and drag to see the white text: DUMB DAD SORRY FOR HIS BET runs along the diagonal.

Because of the tie-in message, there were certain constraints on the construction—hence, more black squares, short entries, and clunky answers than are typical for a Sunday NYT. The theme entries are all puns on famous people's names, as hinted at by the title, "Sounds Like Somebody I Know":

  • ["Loverboy" actress who made the cast sick?] is MARISA PTOMAINE (Tomei). Terrible clue, as she was not a lead character in that movie and nobody saw it. Seriously. It grossed $53,000 total. Why is this movie in a clue? Will Lisa Simpson have the same complaint I do?
  • [Seance-loving crime writer?] is RAYMOND CHANNELER (Chandler).
  • [Hall of Fame golfer who invented the all-plastic club?] would be ARNOLD POLYMER (Palmer).
  • [All-telling gossip queen who repeats everything she hears?] is RONA PARROT (Barrett). "All-telling" sounds awkward; can't "tell-all" describe a person?
  • [Avant-garde composer who sat around a lot?] is ERIK SETTEE (Satie). I think Satie and Barrett both are now more famous within crosswords than without.
  • [Passionate tennis star?] is MONICA ZEALOUS (Seles). Zealous. is a great word and Z's a great letter.
  • [Moscow V.I.P. who liked to cook on a ship?] is NIKITA CRUISE CHEF (Khrushchev).
  • ["I have no face cards" actress?] is LINDSAY LOW HAND (Lohan), as in having a low poker hand.
It's impressive that the first and last pairs of theme entries are stacked together—Merl does like to show off by stacking theme entries.

If ["Rats!"] clues OH, HELL, then INA shouldn't also be clued [Hell ___ handbasket]. One hell per crossword, dammit! That is The Hell Rule of Crosswords.

Tough, tricky, twisty, unusual, or obscure things:
  • [Attorney's favorite sweets?] are TORTES. Get it? Torts and tortes?
  • DMASS, or D-Mass., is an [Abbr. after Ted Kennedy's name].
  • RESEAU is a [Meshed foundation in lace]. This time, "meshed" means "like a mesh" and not Meshed, the city in Iran.
  • ["O.S.S." star, 1946] is Alan LADD. I bet that movie grossed more than Loverboy, even at 1946 ticket prices.
  • [Laying on of hands?] can amount to a BACKRUB.
  • [Yul Brynner died the same day as ___ Welles (odd fact)] clues ORSON. I wonder if this gets mentioned in The Simpsons, because it's an odd sort of clue.
  • [Yaw relative, on an aircraft] is ROLL. If yawing is rolling to one side, what does it mean when a plane rolls?
  • A [Destroyer] is a RUINER, only that's an -ER word one seldom hears.
  • [Freeboot] means MARAUD. Did everyone remember that from the Saturday puzzle?
  • [Swamps] are MORASSES. Neither tough nor obscure—I just like the word morass.
  • [Interstate sight] is a MOTOR INN. Old-school terminology! This reference defines it as "an urban motel usually having several stories."
  • [Guy who digs fossils, slangily] is a BONE MAN. Have you heard this term before?
  • [American Beauty pest] is a ROSE SLUG. Anyone else try to turn this into some sort of BUG?
  • [Gallantry-in-war medals: Abbr.] are DFCS, or the plural of Distinguished Flying Cross.
  • [Tree with serrate leaves], 3 letters—are you gonna choose OAK or ELM? The oak has lobed leaves, whereas the ELM has zigzag serrations at the edges of its leaves.
  • [It's void in Vichy] clues the French NUL. Apparently it can also mean "hopeless" or "useless." German also comes into play—SEHR is [Ilse's "very"].
  • [English duke ___ Gaunt] clues the 6-letter partial, JOHN OF.
  • [Odd morsel] is my favorite old bit of crosswordese, the ORT. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you may have heard my tale of using ort in a high-school term paper and confusing the teacher. Yes, I was already a crossword nerd by that age.
  • The name of [Iron Man co-creator Larry] LIEBER is unfamiliar to me.
  • [Eager beaver's assertion] is I CAN! "Ooh, ooh! I'll do it!" wouldn't fit into four squares.

Merl Reagle's non-tie-in crossword this weekend is "Simply Simpsons" in the Philadelphia Inquirer. It doesn't tie in with tonight's episode, no, but the seven theme entries contain the names of members of the Simpson/Bouvier clan. LISA, BART, and Grandpa ABE occupy the upper left and lower right corners and the very center of the grid, while their relatives are here:
  • HOME RUN HITTER is Barry [Bonds, for one]. Homer is the dad, of course.
  • A DOG OF FLANDERS is an [1872 novel]. Homer calls Ned Flanders by his last name. ("Stupid sexy Flanders.")
  • SELMA, ALABAMA is the famous [1965 march site]. Selma is one of Marge's sisters.
  • SIDEBURNS are [Elvis features]. Does any minor character ever call Mr. Burns "Montgomery" or "Monty"?
  • SAUSAGE PATTY is [Breakfast option]. Patty is Marge and Selma's sister.
  • The TEXAS A&M AGGIES are [Archrivals of the Longhorns (with ampersand)]. Maggie is the baby girl in the family, and she has not outgrown that pacifier in all her 18 years of infancy.
  • FROM ARGENTINA is clued [Born in Buenos Aires, perhaps]. It's not a truly crossword-worthy phrase, but what else includes Marge's name and is crossword-worthy?
It was fun playing hide-and-seek with the Simpsons. It's not all cartoon fun here, though. There are some less familiar things here too. LEHI is the [Site of a Samson slaughter] and not grape soda pop brewed at Lehigh University. MAN-ELF is clued [Will Ferrell played one in a Christmas film]—easy enough if you've seen Elf, perhaps difficult if you haven't. [Dodsworth's wife] is FRAN, and I have no idea who they are. Merl's from the Tampa Bay Rays' area, so he knows that [Carlos of baseball] is PENA, but I have no idea who the player is; my favorite Peña is actress Elizabeth. [Veteran character actor Vito] is SCOTTI. Who? [Donny ___] crosses the ampersanded answer, so its answer is "& MARIE." [Trailing ___ (type of shrub)] is ARBUTUS.

At first glance, Bob Klahn's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" had nowhere I could get a toehold. I read clue after clue and drew blank after blank. Eventually I found a couple 4-letter answers that were gettable, and that got things rolling. There were some answers that resonated with other ones—LANDS ON ([Reaches, in Monopoly]) and PASS GO ([One way to earn $200]) are both from Monopoly. And the northeast corner had tons of music—LA BOHEME was the [First opera in which Pavarotti appeared]. Singer [Linda Ronstadt or Lynda Carter], the actress, is an ARIZONAN. [King Oliver group] is a JAZZ BAND. BIZET is the ["Toreador Song" composer], and OZZY Osbourne is a [Black Sabbath name]. (Elsewhere, more music: a BASS voice is the [Person responsible for the bottom line].) STADIA are [Sports spots] and an ARENA is an [Engagement ring?].

Favorite clues:
  • ["Poor man's bananas"] are PAPAWS. Strange thing to learn.
  • [Some have two arms and a tail, but no legs] refers to SHIRTS.
  • [It's quite a shock] of hair means a MOP.
  • [Sweet drink from the Persian for "rose water"] is JULEP. I never knew where the word came from.
  • [Inspiration for Scotland Yard and the FBI] is the French SURETE.
  • An [Oxbow] is a MEANDER. Who doesn't love geographic formations like these?
  • [Lovers, literally] are AMATEURS. Etymological fun!
  • [Gibson girl?] is tennis great ALTHEA Gibson.

Jack McInturff's syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword is called "Double-barreled," and those barrels are filled with water. Each of nine theme entries is a two-word or two-part term in which WATER (100-Down) can precede each word. Here are several of them"
  • 25A. [Snack named for its New York place of origin] is BUFFALO WINGS. A water buffalo is an animal, and water wings are those flotation devices wrapped around a small child's upper arms.
  • 63D. [NYC's Belt ___] is a PARKWAY. A water park is a place with swimming pools and slides, and a river is a waterway.
  • 44D. [They usually peak in October] means FALL COLORS. Niagara Falls is a waterfall, and watercolors are paints.
  • 65A. [The Kirov, for one] is a BALLET COMPANY. Water ballet is...more or less the same thing as synchronized swimming, isn't it? The water company is the utility that provides your municipal water service.
Among the tougher clues were these:
  • [Maison entrance] is PORTE, French for "door."
  • [Area crossing the nave] in a cathedral is the TRANSEPT.
  • NACELLES are [Engine housings]. Between that and the ICC, or [Former RR watchdog], it wasn't so easy to see that [Brittle] was CRUNCHY at 91-Down. (At 88-Down, it's CRISP, too.)
  • [Phil or Giant] means a Philadelphia Phillie or a San Francisco Giant in the National League—an NL'ER.
  • ["Peer Gynt Suite" dancer] is ANITRA, one of those names I know only from crosswords.
  • SONORA is [Home of the Yaqui].
  • [One bounce, on the diamond] is A HOP. I'm not wild about the indefinite article being included in the answer.

Liz Gorski's Boston Globe Sunday crossword rerun in Across Lite, "Extra Credit," adds an extra CR, or credit, to nine phrases to transform them into something completely different. Add-a-letter (or two letters) themes can be rather arid, but in capable hands they're entertaining—and Liz Gorski is nothing if not a capable constructor. My favorite theme answers:
  • QUAKER CROATS are [The Society of Friends in Bosnia?].
  • "Killer abs" become KILLER CRABS, or [Movie-monster decapods?]. Decapods are 10-legged critters.
  • How often does the word "editor" get played with in a crossword? LETTERS TO THE CREDITOR are [IOU notes?].
  • Sherman Oaks is a suburban area of L.A. SHERMAN CROAKS is [Union general's obit?].
Favorite fill and clues: The BOSS MAN is a [Guy leading a gang]. NO-FAT MAYO is a [Low-cal spread]. I like the southwest corner, where theme entry CRU-HAUL sits atop PICASSO and "SAY WHEN." [Player's club?] is a TWO-IRON and [Play girl?] is an ACTRESS. It's time to update SHEA clues, isn't it? It's clued as a [Queens stadium]. It's being dismantled and the big sign now calls it a TADIUM.