December 05, 2008

Saturday, 12/6

Newsday 7:34
LAT 7:26
NYT 6:03
CS 2:57

(updated at 9:40 Saturday morning)

Ashish Vengsarkar has teamed up with Narayan Venkatasubramanyan to craft the New York Times crossword. It's a themed puzzle, and a themed Saturday NYT seems to pop up only once or twice a year. I love themeless puzzles, I do, but twisty and tough themed puzzles definitely scratch an itch too. The gimmick's explained in the clue for TENORS, or TEN OR'S: [Choir section...or what are missing from the starred clues]. Few crosswords plant the trick in the clues rather than the grid—fun to change it up, no? Here are the theme clues and the +OR words that make them add up:

  • [*Panama] + OR = panorama, which is a VIEW.
  • [*Popular rest area] + OR = popular resort area, or ASPEN.
  • [*Bat portrayer] + OR = Borat portrayer, or SACHA BARON COHEN.
  • [*Sty for youngsters] + OR = story for youngsters, or THREE LITTLE PIGS. Bonus points for the sty/PIGS connection.
  • [*Deal] + OR = ordeal, or TRIAL.
  • [*Cal ___] + OR = coral ___, or REEF.
  • [*Male booster] + OR = morale booster, or SHOT IN THE ARM. Let us not discuss "male booster."
  • [*Words that come from clams] + OR = ...clamors, or ONOMATOPOEIA. Nice tie-in with Matt Ginsberg's Tuesday onomatopoeia puzzle.
  • [*Aid in tailing] + OR = aid in tailoring, or NEEDLE.
  • [*Famous son] + OR = famous Orson, or WELLES.
The theme answers are placed symmetrically and...I think this theme just might be a perfect one. Interesting long answers, and a twist that requires an extra level of thinking while solving.

Hey, Ashish and Narayan: Tell us how you developed this theme. I want to learn about the "making of."

More on the non-theme fill in a bit.

...The kid's asleep, I've had some kettle corn, Letterman's on (a rerun, but with Obama), and I'm back.

A friend e-mailed me that it was a shame each theme clue was marked by an asterisk, as that greatly simplified the task of finding the ten OR's. Mind you, it comes in at roughly a Saturday difficulty with the asterisks, so I suspect there'd have been much wailing and gnashing of teeth without 'em. (The puzzle would've made a terrific Friday Sun puzzle sans asterisks.)

All righty. Other stuff in the puzzle that I liked:
  • The ESCAPE KEY is an [Aid in an emergency], if you're willing to define down "emergency." Lovely entry.
  • [Skin smoother] is a SHAVE. Raise your hand if you tried SALVE here.
  • Crosswordese ORTS answers [Stuff for the disposal]. I don't love to eat leftovers, but am quite fond of the word ORTS.
  • [Red or white nuts?] clues WINOS. This combo almost makes fun of both alcoholism and substance abuse, doesn't it?
  • I like the Dutch digraph ij in [Town on the IJsselmeer]. EDAM is not just for cheesy breakfast anymore—it's also a town.
  • [New old man?] is your STEPDAD. Great entry.
  • SCHEDULE A is a [Common 1040 attachment].
  • [Grp. concerned with royalty] is ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. They're concerned with royalty payments to artists, not with royal families.
  • I adore ["Poppycock!"], but don't know that PAH is a great equivalent. It indicates disgust or irritation, but saying "Nonsense!" has a somewhat different vibe. Close enough for crosswords, anyway.
  • [Proof, say] is the verb. You may REREAD something to proofread it.
  • CATCALL means [Jeer], and it's a great entry.
Proper nouns abound, some tougher than others:
  • I learned about the [Russian car make] LADA in Prague. Small and junky, as I recall.
  • [Writer of the five-volume biography "Henry James"] is Leon EDEL. That's a name made for crosswords—if you haven't seen EDEL before, not to worry. He'll be back.
  • [Chair designer Aarnio] is another EERO, competing with architect Saarinen.
  • [Its liners have stars on them] clues EL AL—jetliners, the Star of David.
  • THALES was a [Pre-Socratic philosopher], and I've never heard of him.


Things I learned from elsewhere in the blogosphere this morning: The grid is 15x16 to accommodate the centering of the 6-letter TENORS. I hadn't noticed this (d'oh!), but Ryan and Brian did. R&B also linked to Jim Horne's interview with Ashish Vengsarkar. Turns out Ashish and Narayan were school friends in India in the '80s and reunited to make a puzzle together. Ashish details the development of their crossword in the interview. Interesting tidbit:
This puzzle was rejected twice and both times I sent it back to Will with more explanations and pleas that he take a second (and third) look at it! It is finally being published with some clue changes nearly two years after it was first submitted.
I'm so glad Ashish was persistent! Memo to Will Shortz: We like puzzles with clever ideas or impressive structure. Only if the rest of the fill is smooth (i.e., isn't blighted by clunky abbreviations, obscurities, or heavily prefixed/suffixed words) do our feelings turn to love. I love this puzzle. More like this, please!

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Money, Money, Money," has three theme entries that begin with "___ money" words, just as the title suggests. [Tailor's accessory] is a PIN CUSHION, and "pin money" is one of those retro phrases that I've never once uttered. POCKET BILLIARDS is a [Game with a cue ball]; pocket money is always good. [Documentation that often uncovers fraud] is a PAPER TRAIL; paper money is a little drier than the other two phrases. Erle Stanley Gardner is left out of this puzzle, but his first name appears in two answers: MERLE [Haggard or Oberon] and EDERLE, the [Gertrude who swam the English Channel]. Whoever the first man to swim the Channel was, I don't know—but the first woman has such a crossword-friendly name that her fame lives on.

I made one reasonable wrong turn on a 3-letter answer in Timothy Meaker's themeless LA Times crossword, and it got me mired in the northeast corner for what felt like an eon. For [ISP option], I went with MSN because of the S in the middle. Alas, the answer is DSL, which meant I tried to make [Zip] be STEAM instead of SPEED. The same corner also had some clues that I couldn't parse correctly for the longest time—
  • [Hairy, in a way] is MANED.
  • [Like some sticks?] is RURAL.
  • [Headmasters?] are SHRINKS. 
Here are some tricky clues from other areas:
  • [They're meant to go over your head] refers to LOBS, as in tennis shots. I started with BIBS here.
  • [Like the Atlantic bluefin tuna] is BICOASTAL. Did you think you'd need a word referring to fish anatomy?
  • [Result of a bad pitch?] is NO SALE.
  • [Where to find a bowler] is a HATBOX.
  • [___-d'Armor, department of NW France] is COTES.
  • [Many a grade: Abbr.] is a LTR., or letter. As in A. B, C, D, or F.
  • [Not consider] clues PASS OVER, as in being passed over for a promotion.
  • AIR CASTLE is a [Place for pipe dreams?]. I know "castles in the air," but not "air castle."
  • ELLA answers [She played Maggie in "Pete Kelly's Blues" (1955)]. That's the inimitable ELLA Fitzgerald, playing a role that was filled by a white actress in the radio series that preceded the movie.
  • Crosswords' favorite willow basketry word, OSIER, is the answer to [Wattle fence wood].

Today's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" is by Stanley Newman, using his "S.N." byline. (PDF solution here.) Byron Walden said this one took him about 3 minutes less than it took me, so it might not be the day's hardest themeless. (Which was the toughest one for you?) The NE and SW corners of the grid look great, with the stacks of four 8's. The place I got bogged down was in the middle left. [Getty Oil once controlled it], ES**? Must be ESSO, of course. But no! It's ESPN. [Put another way] must be RESTATED, right? No? How about REPEATED or ITERATED? No, it's REROUTED. [Minks, to weasels] are a SUBSET and not cousins, friends, or mortal enemies. [They're sort of pointless] clues EPEES; the clue is spot-on, as the epee has a point, but it's been blunted. To [Ice] something is to SEW it UP, but [Ice] can mean many other things; so can [Clear], which clues the verb ERASE but is also an adjective with a variety of senses. [Dig into] is PROBE, but I wanted DELVE there. [Ancient mariners] is a plural, but the answer doesn't end in S; it's the NORSE.

I wasn't crazy about TEN STONE as an answer; clued as [It's almost 150 pounds in England], this 140-lb. measure seems arbitrary as a crossword entry. If TEN STONE is OK, that opens the door to FIVEPOUNDS, THREETONS, SIXOUNCES, TWOTABLESPOONS...

HOTFOOT IT is a much better entry. It's clued simply as [Run]. MEAT AND POTATOES are [Roast needs], but as an alternative [..."For the Real Meat Lover in the Family!"], may I suggest ALPO? Oh, wait—[Roast needs] are EMCEES. MEAT AND POTATOES means [Not fancy]. ["Raton" chaser] is el GATO, Spanish for "cat"; I'm sure the clue tricked a few people into writing the Raton preceder BOCA. ESSEN, Germany, will be the [European Capital of Culture for 2010]; how much do you wanna bet we'll see this factoid in other clues over the next couple years? A [Short-range missile] is a ROTTEN EGG. Duck!