December 31, 2008

Thursday, 1/1

Sun 6:01
LAT 4:09
NYT 3:41
CS 3:00

(updated at 12:30 Thursday afternoon)

Happy New Year! Stay tuned for talk about another 1,700 or so crosswords over the course of the coming year. I have a good feeling about this 2009 business.

It could be the New Year's Eve margaritas talking, but I found Alan Arbesfeld's New York Times crossword to be just lovely. Sure, there are only three theme entries, but the trade-off is that we get eight 8- or 9-letter answers in the fill and a 72-word grid that satisfies the word count limit for themeless puzzles. The theme answers tack on a Z (the best of all letters) to completely change the subject of a phrase:

  • [Do a marathon in Egypt?] clues RUN AROUND SUEZ, playing on the Dion song, "Runaround Sue." Marathon in Egypt? Probably gonna need a lot of water stations for that.
  • [Goes all out at an audition for a sax great?] is PLAYS HARD TO GETZ.
  • [Top-secret carpentry tool?] is a CLASSIFIED ADZ. I like repurposing of crosswordese—a nutty little word like adz, which I never have a need for outside of crosswords, suddenly gets promoted to the big time. It's a little reward for the folks who have filled their heads with such words.
The longer answers in the fill include phrases like ON ONE'S OWN ([Independent]), ALL AT ONCE ([Suddenly]), and the surprising HOLD WATER ([Add up]), and the under-ballyhooed BALTIC SEA—that's [Part of Poland's border], not to mention the Baltic lands of Lithuania (I'm an eighth Lithuanian, you know), Latvia, and Estonia. BOYZ II MEN (pronounced "Boys to Men"), the R&B vocal group, are clued with [Band whose 1994 song "I'll Make Love to You" was #1 for 14 weeks]. That title seems a little racy for the Gray Lady, doesn't it? The Gray Lady is gettin' some action tonight.

Remember when yesterday's puzzle had YAKUT in it? Today, we get [Yakutsk's river], the LENA; you owe it to yourself to read up on Yakutsk—ice road truckers, four months of well-below-zero temps, a Museum of Mammoth, and a highway you can't always access from town. ILLER is clued [More wonderful, to a hip-hopper]; the daintiness of "more wonderful" amuses me here. [Certain scale start] is CDEF; these are music notes, I presume, and the C*EF lured me into entering CLEF at first. I didn't see this clue while doing the puzzle—[Rear end, anatomically] is NATES, with two syllables, a plural noun meaning the buttocks derived from the Latin natis meaning "buttock, rump." Despite my years of crosswords and medical editing, that one's new to me. Pound and stone are units of weight, while [Pound and Stone] are two EZRAS. Ezra Stone? He's as unfamiliar to me as nates—he got famous as a radio actor back in the '30s.


I'm glad I saved Karen Tracey's Sun crossword, a "Themeless Thursday," for this morning. I was much too tired to do it justice last night. I mostly waltzed smoothly through the clues—until I reached the 4x5 section in the upper right corner. For the longest time, all I had was the -OR at the end of the constellation. Eventually it occurred to me that [Woodstock artist] meant the creator of Snoopy's bird friend and not a 1969 musician: CHARLES M. SCHULZ. It might've helped if I hadn't been convinced that [Where Samsung is headquartered] was somewhere in Japan rather than SEOUL, South Korea. It all looks so plausible now, but I needed just one of those answers to be a gimme. I should've known [Service designation] would be the ol' ONE-A.

Favorite clues and answers:
  • [GRE component] isn't one of the words starting with G, R, or E, as I'd initially thought. VERBAL, my favorite section.
  • EILEEN is the [Name in the only hit by Dexys Midnight Runners]. Yes, that '80s band could use an apostrophe, but they looked so down and out in that "Come On Eileen" video, they could scarcely be expected to scrounge up proper punctuation.
  • I didn't know that The PICKWICK PAPERS was a [Novel with the character Serjeant Buzfuz, with "The"]. This clue follows the Dexys one and lends an air of (sic)ness.
  • SPELUNK ([Explore among stalagmites and stalactites]) pairs nicely with CAVERNOUS, or [Yawning].
  • BRIC-A-BRAC makes for [Whatnot contents]. A whatnot is a "stand with shelves for small objects."
  • Adrian [Monk, e.g.] is a TITLE ROLE on cable TV. TV also gets must-see TV SITCOMS, VINNIE Barbarino, Sherilynn FENN from Twin Peaks, and a VOTE on Survivor.
Andy Sawyer celebrates New Year's Day with a bowl game theme in his LA Times crossword:
  • ROSE MADDER is a [Reddish pigment], and the Rose Bowl comes complete with a parade.
  • The LIBERTY PARTY was an [1840s abolitionist group] not of my ken. It morphed into the Free Soil Party, which I've heard of but know little about. There's a Liberty Bowl in football? There are a lot of bowl games that don't ring a bell in this Sporcle quiz. Thirty-four! My husband and I named maybe 10 of 'em.
  • ORANGE FREE STATE (yay, Orange!) is the [Former name of the province whose capital is Bloemfontein]. The Orange Bowl is one of the biggies.
  • COTTON MATHER was a [Witch trials VIP], and the Cotton Bowl has been around for ages. If you want a good read, pick up Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates, about the Puritans. I'm only 90 pages in, but she's already name-checked my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Harbottle Grimstone.
  • SUGAR DADDY is a colorful phrase (meaning [Benefactor of a sort]), and the Sugar Bowl is one of the familiar ones.
  • BOWL, [Any of five that begin this puzzle's longest answers], wraps it all in a BOW ([Wrap session creation]) at 67-Across.
It almost looked as it DUMB DOWN ([Uncomplicate to a fault]) and BONA FIDE ([True]) could be theme entries too, based on their length and positioning. Oh, if only there were a Dumb Bowl in NCAA football!

Overall, an excellent and timely theme with some interesting fill and Thursday-tough clues. [Spanish sherry city, formerly] could be spelled Jerez, but here it's XERES, crossing GEN X, or [Thirtysomethings et al.]. [Makes a bust] isn't about narcs, it's about Rodin and his peers—the answer is SCULPTS. Its L crosses GADFLY, or [Annoying sort]; I hereby make a New Year's resolution to find more uses for the word gadfly. [Yearns for pines?: Abbr.] duped me again—it's SYN, short for synonym, and the last time I saw a clue like this, I was lost. A few days ago, PORNO was in the Sun crossword, and now it's in the LA Times one, clued as [Blue books?]. Miscellaneous other clues: MINYAN is a [Synagogue quorum]. CASCA was [One of Caesar's assassins]. [Insolvent banking giant, familiarly] is WAMU, recently reported to have been approving anyone for a mortgage.

Tom Schier's CrosSynergy crossword also has a seasonal theme—"Resolutions for the New Year." His four resolutions are notably lacking any mention of "get better at crosswords," but exhort the following: BE NICER TO OTHERS, SAVE MORE MONEY, EXERCISE DAILY, and LOSE EXTRA POUNDS. I like to misread multi-word crossword answers, don't you? "Be nice toothers," those are words to live by. One of the long Down answers, [Part of a sportscaster's game recap], is FINAL SCORE—there'll be plenty of that going on today. My personal favorite is the hockey Winter Classic at Wrigley Field, a matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Redwings. I wouldn't want to be sitting outside in Wrigley when it's 30° out—it's tough enough to make it through a spring ball game when it's 50°. (But then, I wouldn't have wanted to be standing in Times Square last night with the frigid temps, either.) It's cool to have an NHL game happening in the neighborhood, though, and luckily the skies are cloudy so the skaters won't have to contend with blinding glare.