November 18, 2008

Wednesday, 11/19

Sun 5:12
Tausig 5:08
Onion 4:13
NYT 3:50
LAT 3:36
CS 3:22

Here is Merl Reagle's postgame recap of his experience being on The Simpsons and crafting the Sunday NYT crossword that was in the show. Interestingly (and I learned this elsewhere), though the main puzzles used in the show were Merl's work and the credits reflected that, some of the crosswords seen on screen were by Tyler Hinman, Kevan Choset, and Bob Peoples.

Peter Collins' New York Times crossword has a rather small anagram theme. Each theme entry is an anagram of a collegiate sports team name (in the singular), with the college mentioned in the clue:

  • LEATHER, an anagram of TARHEEL, is a [Jacket material for a mixed-up North Carolina athlete?].
  • WINE LOVER unscrambles to WOLVERINE and is clued [Oenophile, as a mixed-up Michigan athlete?].
  • RAN PAST, or [Flew by, as a mixed-up Michigan State athlete?], is an anagram of SPARTAN.
  • ARGOT is [Jargon from a mixed-up Florida athlete], starting with GATOR.
  • RUB IN anagrams BRUIN and is clued [Apply to the skin, as on a mixed-up U.C.L.A. athlete].
Those five answers take up just 33 squares. Is there another level to the theme that I'm missing? I can tell that LAS VEGAS anagrams to SALVAGES, but that's not a secret hidden college athlete. Why are these five teams represented? Are they the only Division I teams that lent themselves to solid anagrams? Perhaps there was no other 6-letter option that could have appeared opposite BARGED in the grid, and no 10-letter option to balance ENUMERATION. Okay, so I've established that this may have been a hard theme to find candidate entries for—but with the small theme-square count, I'm not sure why the fill has some oddball answers (unless, as I said, I've missed something completely). Here are some of the gnarly spots:
  • [Term of friendship in France] is MON AMI, or "my friend" in French.
  • [King of the Roman Empire] demands a generic Latin word for "king," or REX.
  • [Move beyond] is OUTSTEP.
  • [Peterson of 2003 news] is LACI. Wow, victims of brutal murders are fair game for the crossword now? I don't like that.
  • [Egyptian sun god] is ATEN.
  • STERE doesn't get so much play any more, but it sure used to. It's a [Cubic meter]. Other answers that border on the crosswordese category include EDO, ADZ, ESSENES, and der ALTE. Speaking of the German ALTE, there's also Spanish (RANCHO, SOL, and MES), French (SALUT and the aforementioned MON AMI), and Latin (OVO and king REX).
  • [Study of pleasure] is HEDONICS. Hey, that's what I majored in.
  • [Actress Aulin of "Candy"] is EWA.
  • [Classic batting game] is ONE-A-CAT. Sometimes also spelled as one-o-cat.

Alan Arbesfeld's Sun puzzle, "E-Trade," takes five phrases and moves the letter E from one word to another, with interesting results:
  • A swing state turns into SEWING STAT, or [Number of stitches per minute?].
  • The guest of honor shuffles into GUST OF HONORÉ, or [Passionate outburst from painter Daumier?]. What, no flatulence here?
  • The Stars and Stripes becomes STARES AND STRIPS, or [Burlesque show happenings]. I wonder if this one was the seed entry for the theme.
  • ["Don't let that dark-haired guy inside!"] clues BAR THE BRUNET, which builds on "bear the brunt."
  • Usually I'm entertained by any appearance of "Orange" in a crossword. Not so this time! The Orange Bowl becomes ORANG BOWEL, or [Specimen in a simian autopsy, maybe?]. Ick. Just...eww.
PAUL O'NEILL is not just the former Secretary of the Treasury in the Bush administration—he's also a baseball player, a [Yank who was a Red]. Versatile guy!* Opposite that answer, there's another full name: LEANN RIMES was the [Youngest person to win a Grammy]. I probably had more to say about this crossword, but I got distracted watching Scare Tactics so it's gotten late and I'm sleepy.

*Yes, I know it's two different people.


Gail Grabowski's LA Times puzzle has four theme entries framing a description of each one's first word: CSI CLUE. Here is the evidence: [Gift-wrapping material] is TISSUE PAPER. [Easily provoked] is HAIR-TRIGGER. [Handy PC key] is PRINT SCREEN, with the CSI CLUE being fingerprints. FIBER OPTICS is a [Modern communications science]. It's a solid Wednesday puzzle—nothing stuck out in either the "wow" or "meh" departments. Nothing wrong with being solid. And I might've been more enthusiastic about the theme if not for the NYT (57-Down, [Empire St. paper since 1851]) crossword pulling my thoughts away from a make-believe crime show to a real-life tragedy.

Tom Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "First Aid Candidates," won my heart with its first theme entry. All four theme answers begin with minor injuries:
  • BOO BOO BEAR is a [Jellystone Park character] along with Yogi Bear.
  • To [Gain early experience] is to CUT ONE'S TEETH.
  • SCRAPE BOTTOM is [Reach a low point].
  • SCRATCH OUT means [Cross off].
Pass the Neosporin and Band-Aids, and get a kiss from mommy or daddy to make it all better. In the fill, there's an unusual 9-letter word: TETRAGRAM is [A word of four letters]. It pertains to the tetragrammaton, but is also a generic word meaning "four-letter word." So next time you're talking about the F-bomb or the SH-word, be sure to refer to it as a tetragram.

Matt Gaffney's Onion A.V. Club crossword skews juvenile/crude, as sometimes happens in the Onion. The theme entries all end with slang words meaning "penis," or DICK (65-Across, [Word each theme entry ends with a synonym for]). Now, this puzzle's not as ambitious as Byron Walden's double-penis Onion theme from last year, in which each theme entry contained two of 'em (e.g., ANDY RODDICK), but apparently the fellas like to make penis-themed crosswords. Here are Matt's theme answers:
  • RETIREMENT / PACKAGE is clued [it might be a golden parachute (offered by companies like Halliburton)]. Editorializing plus pee-pee humor! ("Package" is the slang here.)
  • [Clears out an accumulation of garbage (perhaps after eight years of being preoccupied)] is HAULS AWAY JUNK. As with "package," I think "junk" includes more than just the DICK, doesn't it?
  • [Hoe or rake (like one might use to tend plants after losing one's job)] is a GARDENING TOOL. Again with the editorializing...curious.
  • FISHING ROD is [Certain sporting equipment (especially useful for keeping the heart in shape)]. I have no idea why cardiac fitness is being mentioned in the clue. "Rod" and "tool" both refer to just the DICK.
The strangest answer is SAWAUFO, or SAW A UFO, clued as [Spotted little creatures, maybe]. With the J in place, I confidently jotted in GIJOE for [Bald badass], and then I remembered that he's not a bald doll and changed it to Theo KOJAK. (Edited to add: Commenter Jacob points out that the theme clues all refer to a particular DICK, Dick Cheney. D'oh! I knew Matt Gaffney recently moved after years in another city, so I convinced myself the JUNK clue was autobiographical.)

Updated again:

Ben Tausig's Chicago Reader/Ink Well crossword, "Taking the Wrong Way," begins each theme entry with a synonym for "steal":
  • [Gay rock god who sang "Breaking the Law"] is Judas Priest's ROB HALFORD. Here's a live performance—who doesn't enjoy the "Breaking the law, breaking the law!" chorus? At the gym this morning, I was reading Rolling Stone's write-up of the top 100 rock singers—I don't think Halford made the cut, but fellow "gay rock god" Freddie Mercury did. (Here's one reason.) The theme tie-in is that robbing is stealing.
  • [Tennessee whiskey produced in a dry county] is JACK DANIELS. Carjacking is just one application of "jack."
  • [Make faces in a photo booth, e.g.] is MUG FOR THE CAMERA. I've never been mugged.
  • [Take forever to choose one's value meal, say] is to HOLD UP A LINE. I'd prefer "hold up the line, but then the rest of the theme would need shuffling. Here, the "steal" word is actually a two-word phrase.
  • [Succeed through an ad campaign, perhaps] is to BOOST SALES. Let the record show that I have never boosted anything intentionally, though I did accidentally leave Ace Hardware with a three-ring notebook under my arm around 1981. It 
Least familiar answer in the puzzle: The [Colorful flower genus] XYRIS. Favorite pieces: [All-purpose comeback] clues YO MAMA. BURNING MAN is the [Annual desert festival whose name describes its closing ceremony]. NO SEX is [What Lysistrata promised, as long as the war continued], and it's the repeated punchline in a story my in-laws' friends were telling so it makes me giggle. Is HOTBOX one word or two? It's clued [Smoke pot in a tight space, slangily]. ADAMS is clued [John, Douglas, or Sam]—early president, Hitchhiker's Guide author, and brewer. [Word repeated twice before "Look who's forty!"] is LORDY.