November 24, 2008

Tuesday, 11/25

Sun 4:35
Jonesin' 4:08
LAT 3:27
CS 3:10
NYT 2:53

Ah, kids these days! Teen constructor Caleb Madison's New York Times crossword packs in six theme entries and some sparkling fill. Each theme entry takes a two-syllable word and swaps its two vowels and clues the original and flipped words together as a phrase:

  • [Trial jury?] is a PENAL PANEL.
  • [Wine telemarketer?] is a CELLAR CALLER.
  • [Lone Star State duties?] are TEXAS TAXES.
  • [Late-night talk show host's principles?] are the CONAN CANON. It'll be great when Conan O'Brien's on an hour earlier when he takes over Tonight Show, won't it?
  • [Slyly popping a breath mint, e.g.?] is a TIC TAC TACTIC. The clue's just plain nutty. This answer's a bit different from the others in that TIC TAC isn't one word.
  • [Sammy's backup singers?] would be DAVIS DIVAS—although I think diva status is denied to backup singers until they break out and go solo.
Favorite answers here:
  • Franz KAFKA was the ["Amerika" novelist]. He and the XBOX, a [GameCube competitor], are both pretty Scrabbly. (I thought the latter clue was off base at first, but apparently the XBOX was discontinued a couple years ago, and when it was new, it competed with GameCube. The Xbox on the market now isn't an Xbox, it's an Xbox 360. These are altogether different things, apparently.)
  • MR. MOTO, the [Detective played by Peter Lorre], marries MRS. C., [Richie's mom, to the Fonz].
  • An ANT FARM is a [Myrmecologist's box].
  • A baseball player who is [Not quite in the majors] is a TRIPLE A player.

[Heart beater in bridge bidding] is a SPADE. Do most Tuesday solvers know that? I don't know bridge at all, though in hindsight, it shouldn't have been too hard to guess that the answer was one of the suits in a deck of cards. The KEPI is a [Hat for a French soldier], and this is one of those words I know mainly from puzzles. I had an adjacent-key typo that messed with my solving time—no, the [Shout from Scrooge] is not BAJ. I meant to type BAH. Jonest.

Do you ever finish a crossword and find yourself staring at it, trying to figure out what on earth the theme is? I do, and I did tonight with Randall Hartman's Sun puzzle, "Spin Doctors." Eventually it dawned on me that a D and R (Dr., or doctor) that start and finish a word get "spun" so that the R now starts the word and the D ends it:
  • German publication Der Spiegel swaps the D and R to become RED SPIEGEL, a [Communist clothing catalog?]. Remember Spiegel? It was a catalog, a chain of stores, then I think just an online retailer, and now they have one whole bricks-and-mortar store.
  • The Little Dipper turns into LITTLE RIPPED, or [Not very drunk]. I'd like the theme answer better if it were preceded by the word A, but then it wouldn't work with the Little Dipper.
  • [Business honcho who's quit?] is a RESIGNED SUIT (designer suit).
  • The Deer Hunter loses its article (or else is just a generic hunter of deer) and changes letters to become REED HUNTER, which is not only two college names but also an [Oboist at a music store, perhaps?].
AL GORE is in the fill, clued as the ["While I strongly disagree with the court's decision, I accept it" speaker]. Wednesday morning, my son's third grade pod will be putting on a "Goin' Green" show inspired by Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Speaking of cautionary documentaries on important topics, Patrick Creadon's Wordplay follow-up, I.O.U.S.A., made the short list for the Oscars—of the 15 docs on the short list, five will be nominated.

Longer fill includes PIKES PEAK in Colorado, the STATE PEN (terrific entry!), BUMS A RIDE, and MAIL IT IN, or [Do a perfunctory job]. Is "mailing it in" more half-assed or less half-assed than "phoning it in"?


Gene Newman's LA Times crossword features three theme entries that add a silent W to change the meaning of a phrase:
  • [Christmas Eve event?] is a WRAP SESSION. Speaking of Christmas and wrapping, it's getting to be that time of year—consider going to your local post office to get some "Dear Santa" letters to fulfill.
  • A [Good auto insurance risk?] is a WRECKLESS DRIVER. I like this one best, since reckless and wreckless are polar opposites in this setting.
  • [Kitty Hawk paraphernalia?] is the WRIGHT STUFF.
The theme's pretty easy, but some other clues are tougher. [Ritchard who played Hook on Broadway] is CYRIL, and I've never heard of him. [Actress Berger], or SENTA, has the advantage of having a more crossword-friendly batch of letters, so I've seen her name before—though I haven't a clue what work she did and whether she was any good. An [Encircling ring of light] is an AUREOLE—not to be confused with an areola.

Will Johnston's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Wishy-Washy," is excellent. The theme entries are three things you might say as a [Wishy-washy resly to a proposal]: "I CAN'T SAY FOR SURE," "MAYBE YES, MAYBE NO," and "ASK ME AGAIN LATER." Mind you, if you're planning to propose to someone in a public place, you need to be 99.99% sure you won't be getting one of these responses. Some of the fill dances around this topic—one who is IN LOVE (or [Smitten]) and gets rebuffed will then cry DON'T GO (["Please stay!"]). There's also some lively longer fill: The N.Y. YANKEES are the [MLB team with the most ALCS wins]. BAGUETTES are a [Boulangerie basketful]. [Comprehensive victory] is a CLEAN SWEEP. "YOU DA MAN!" means ["Bravo, bro!"]. And my favorite entry is ARMS AKIMBO, a [Jaunty pose description].

Matt Jones's Jonesin' puzzle, "Hidden Strength," hides an OBAMA in each of six theme entries. [Superhero with the power to produce Japanese noodles?] is YAKISOBA MAN, for example. And [Hope/Crosby travel flick that takes place in Mali's capital?] is THE ROAD TO BAMAKO. Cute! Mind you, each theme entry is a preposterously made-up phrase, but that's half the fun right there—seeing how Matt's brain works. The surrounding fill is fun, as usual for Jonesin' crosswords. [Toy advertised with the slogan "but they don't fall down"]? Why, that's a WEEBLE, of course. It wobbles, but you can't knock it over. SPAZ is a [Like, totally uncool person]. And [Menage-a-many?] clues an ORGY.