December 11, 2008

Friday, 12/12

NYT 6:05
LAT 5:17
Sun 4:45
CHE 4:39
CS 4:12
WSJ 7:52

What a treat—themeless crosswords from a long established master of the form, Frank Longo, and a newer hotshot, Mike Nothnagel.

Mike's puzzle is the New York Times one, and he's loaded it with some delightful fill. There's some knotty stuff, as you expect for a late-week puzzle, but nothing beyond the pale. Here are the incandescent answers:

  • "BATTER UP" is a [Call after which someone fills a box]. 
  • To [Be way off] is to MISS BY A MILE.
  • ESPRESSO BAR [employees get a lot of perks], as in percolating coffee. 
  • An IRS FORM and TAXPAYER are cross-referenced in the clues. One alone would be all right, but the pairing is better.
  • My favorite crossword answer this week is LUCY VAN PELT of Peanuts. She's the [Fictional manager of a "psychiatric help" booth]. Five cents, cheap! She's completely unlicensed as a mental health professional, of course.
  • LAKE ONTARIO splashes in the bottom of the grid, clued as the never-heard-of-it [Setting of Main Duck Island].
  • VISHNU is the Hindu [God commonly depicted with four arms].
  • RUBS RAW means [Chafes]. The sequence of letters looks wrong, doesn't it?
  • An EMOTICON is a [Face sideways?].
  • The Shirley MacLaine special is PAST LIVES, or [Pre-reincarnation periods].
Things I did not know:
  • LOTHAR is [Mandrake the Magician's sidekick].
  • [Billy Graham's "___ the Hills"] is finished by UNTO. It's a devotional book.
  • [Home of the ancient Olympics] is ELIS. We recently had the adjectival form of this (Elean) in another puzzle, and that struck me as so obscure, I blotted the second vowel in ELIS from my memory.
  • [Bell Centre team member, familiarly] is HAB. Say what? I Googled this post-solve. The Montreal Canadiens are called the Habs, as in les habitants.
  • [NPR's "Only ___"] is A GAME. I'm guessing this is a sports show, and I wasn't aware that NPR had such a thing.
  • [Carpenter's scoring tool] is a SCRIBER.
Favorite clues:
  • [Thing on a string] is a TEABAG. Give yourself a cookie if you strongly considered TAMPON here.
  • [Where le nez is] is la TETE, or head. I tried to think of a 4-letter French word meaning "face."
  • [Where rushing strategies are often discussed] isn't a football huddle but FRAT ROW. I needed all the crossings to see where this was going.
  • [Course that has its limits, briefly] is CALC, or calculus. Math pun, ha! The math teachers seem to love those.
  • [Piece of silver] ware is a SPOON. Were you trying to summon up a 5-letter name for a silver coin?
  • [One who's often with child?] is MADONNA, as in both the Madonna-and-child Renaissance paintings and Madonna Ciccone with her three kids.
  • [Picked a ticket] clues VOTED. When I was 19, I had a cop tell me to "pick a ticket." Wasn't that sweet? I could choose speeding or running a stop sign, and he wasn't going to dispense both tickets.
Yeah, I liked this crossword a lot. LUCY VAN PELT! She lights up the grid, she does. I'd actually just been wondering the other day why we hadn't seen a Mikey N. creation for a while, and here 'tis.

I've got to be quick about blogging Frank's Sun crossword, a "Weekend Warrior" (yay! two themeless Suns in a row this week!), because two DVRed TV shows are waiting for me and they're getting impatient. This grid contains two completely unfamiliar answers—CATAMARCA, the [Argentine province or its capital], and CALMA, clued with ["Ridente la ___" (Mozart song)]. The second C in CATAMARCA crossed the [Jailer in Beethoven's "Fidelio"], ROCCO—I think he was in another crossword in the last year, also with a crazy crossing, and some people had opted for ROSCO instead.

Favorite clues and answers:
  • [Very bad], [Very sad], and [Very mad] are the first three clues in the puzzle. They point towards AWFUL, DEPRESSED, and IRATE. (This puzzle is a bummer.)
  • The SUEZ CANAL [was closed during the Six-Day War].
  • HAVE A BONE TO PICK means [Feel like doing some complaining].
  • [Trivia, to the Greeks] is HECATE. Is this etymology, or is there a Roman goddess named Trivia? I am sure one of you knows the answer.
  • AD NAUSEAM means [Way too much]. Spelling hint: it's nauseam and not nauseum because nausea ends with an A, not a U. Nauseum would be, like, a museum of gastric upset.
  • [Yard alternative] is a PINT GLASS. How many ounces of ale are there in a yard of ale?
  • PANTS? [They may be charmed off of you].
  • [House party] is the DEMOCRATS.

Once again, I had trouble tuning into the Friday LA Times crossword's wavelength. I didn't get the feeling that Gail Grabowski's clues were really hard, and the fill is all straightforward—it was a quasi-"Saturday Stumper"-esque experience of missing the point of the clues. (Sigh.)

The theme entries insert an O to change a phrase's meaning:
  • [Constant computer glitches?] are a REPAIR OMEN (repairmen).
  • [Tournament for cryptologists?] is a DECODER OPEN (decoder pen). "Decoder pen" is not in my parlance.
  • [Popeye's gal in mortal danger?] is OLIVE BY THE SWORD (live by the sword).
  • [Work to reduce a cause of air pollution?] is COMBAT OZONE (combat zone).
  • [How one might read a sad newspaper section?] is OBIT BY OBIT (bit by bit, plus two O's).

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle, "It's Just a Phase," starts each theme entry with a phase of the MOON (67-Across). NEW ENGLAND is [Where Patriots are revered]. CRESCENT ROLL is a sort of [Bent bread]. The QUARTERHORSE is an [Animal raised to run 1,320 feet] on a racetrack. [Back to the start] means FULL CIRCLE, and the phases of the moon—from new to crescent, quarter, ("waxing gibbous" omitted from the theme), and finally full go full circle. Or they do when they pass through waning gibbous to the other quarter and crescent before returning to a new moon. Favorite clue: [Work on a wall?] for ART mounted on a wall.

Todd McClary's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Polymath," has a cool theme. Familiar phrases that start with numbers and share the same noun are paired and subjected to arithmetic operations, and the theme answer is the result:
  • [(Women's college group) – (Chekhov play)] = Seven Sisters – Three Sisters = FOUR SISTERS.
  • [(Parlor game) ÷ (seder ritual)] = Twenty Questions ÷ Four Questions = FIVE QUESTIONS.
  • [(Alfred Hitchcock film, with "The") + (recovery program)] = The 39 Steps + 12 Steps = FIFTY-ONE STEPS.
  • [(Woodrow Wilson speech topic) ÷ (slam dunk score)] = Fourteen Points ÷ 2 points = SEVEN POINTS.
Isn't that a fun game?

Mike Shenk constructed this week's Wall Street Journal crossword under the pen name Judith Seretto. The title is "Small Investments" because the word WEE is invested in each theme entry. For example, CB radio is short for Citizens' Band, which takes on a WEE to read CITIZENS BAN WEED, or [Headline about an antipot referendum?]. The Dark Knight becomes THE DARK WEEKNIGHT, or [Moonless Monday, perhaps?]. This one's the best of all the theme entries, if you ask me. Plenty of interesting clues and fill here, too.