December 01, 2008

Tuesday, 12/2

Jonesin' 4:51
CS 3:46
NYT 3:23
Sun 3:20
LAT 2:54

Matt Ginsberg is one of those constructors who enjoy playing around with the crossword rules to see how far the format will bend. In his New York Times crossword, the goal is to toss in a surfeit of short theme answers while dispensing with the expectation of strict theme symmetry. The theme entries all combine to make a terrible DIN (41-Across) of onomatopoeia. The five longest ones are placed symmetrically:

  • CHOO-CHOO is the sound of [...a toy train].
  • KERPLUNK is the sound of [...a raindrop in a puddle]. I think that's more of a gentle "plink, while "kerplunk" is louder and more solid.
  • [...brakes] make a SCREECH.
  • The [...Road Runner] in the old cartoons says BEEP-BEEP. My husband and I both think it's "meep-meep" that he says.
  • [...grease in a deep fryer] goes SPLATTER. I dispute this one—splattering is a verb, and "splat" is a sound, and I can't spell the sound that hot oil makes. Sizzle, pop, "oh, crap, I burned myself"—but not SPLATTER.

The shorter sounds are:

10A. BOOM from an explosion.
15A. A thunder CLAP.
18A. HUSH from [...a mother with noisy kids]. Hey, dads can shush their children too, you know.
32 and 45A. PING and PONG make up the table tennis sounds.
42A. SWISH goes the ball through the hoop.
50A. A knock on the door is a RAP.
65A. OINK goes the pig.
1D. CLINK goes the champagne glass.
6D. ACH says [...a surprised German]. Is this one onomatopoeic?
7D. The hen CLUCKs.
11D. OOOH goes [...a circusgoer] with an arbitrary number of O's.
31D. [...a doorbell] goes DONG. Yes, it also means "penis." No, the Cruciverb database doesn't show the word being clued with that sense.
32D. PSST says [...a cheater in class] or anyone else trying to get someone's attention surreptitiously.
56D. PLOP emits from [...a person sitting down].

There are 21 theme entries including the 3's, 4's, and 5's. You can count the theme squares if you want to—I will take a pass on that.

In the quieter fill, we have some old-school crossword answers: INGLE is clued as [Fireplace], NACRES are [Mother-of-pearls], and ETAPE is a [Day's march]. [Prefix with dactyl] is PTERO. HOME base is clued [It follows first, second and third]; good clue. [Ham-and-___ (incompetent sort)] for EGGER—that's a new one on me. A [Boar] is a WILD PIG, while a [Little ham?] is a SHOAT. [Fond ___, Wis.] clues DU LAC; it's an ugly entry, but I passed the exit for Fond du Lac last weekend. [Get-up-and-go] clues OOMPH, not part of the theme. IOWA is a [Place name before and after City] when you mention Iowa City, Iowa.

In his Sun puzzle, "Central Heating," Michael Blake assembles a group of two-word phrases that can take some heating—FIRE, at 71-Across—in their centers to form two new phrases:
  • A GUN-FIGHTER like [Billy the Kid, for one] yields gunfire and a firefighter.
  • An [Isolated place] is a BACKWATER. Things can backfire, and firewater is strong booze.
  • [Thunder and lightning occur during] an ELECTRICAL STORM. An electrical fire could conceivably cause a firestorm.
  • [Realtor's showing] is an OPEN HOUSE. This gives us the verb phrase "open fire" and a firehouse, both of which thematically deposit us back at gunfire and firefighter.
  • [Yawn, in slang] is CATCH FLIES. In your open mouth? Eww. Combustible materials can catch fire, and kids like to catch fireflies.
This is a nice twist on the "unifying word can follow both parts of the phrase" sort of theme—and it would make a good brainteaser, listing the four theme answers and asking the solver to figure out what they have in common.

The title of Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword echoes the grammar purist's lament: "Come On, Get It Right!" The theme entries in this ungainly-looking (but not ungainly-solving) puzzle offer plausible definitions for mangled phrases:
  • THEIR ONLY HUMAN is supposed to have "they're" in it. It doesn't, so it's clued [What the Martian zoo display was down to?].
  • TO MANY COOKS should have "too" as part of the saying, "too many cooks spoil the broth." As is, it's clued [Where culinary newsletters are sent].
  • YOUR DARN TOOTIN' ought to start with "you're." It doesn't, so the clue is [What I hope the gas pills will help stop?]. Ha! This one made me laugh.
Favorite answers and clues:
  • OOH is clued ["You're in trou-uh-ble!"]. Read it with the tone of a classroom of middle-schoolers and it should work.
  • DISCO STU is a [Simpsons character in a leisure suit].
  • RAHM is [Barack Obama's Chief of Staff Emanuel]. His kids go to the private grade school where he went, right in my neighborhood.
  • [It's very alluring] clues a SIREN SONG.
Tough stuff: AFRIT is a [Powerful demon, in Arabic mythology] and no, I hadn't heard of this either. [Separate by cutting off] clues ABSCISE, which I also hadn't seen before; it's akin to abscissa. OGS are original gangstas, or [Old-school hardcore rappers, for short].


Hey! Look at that. Jack McInturff's LA Times puzzle actually settles in right at the Tuesday level, a good bit easier than the NYT and Sun. The theme is anagrams, as five answers end with anagrams of the same letters. They're all clued straightforwardly:
  • [Repair shop stock] is SPARE PARTS.
  • [Heavy woodpile covers] are CANVAS TARPS.
  • [Diet-conscious nursery rhyme guy] is JACK SPRAT.
  • [Shoelace alternative] is a VELCRO STRAP.
  • [Radar gun sites] are SPEED TRAPS.
The fill is notable for two things: (1) a ton of 7-letter words, and (2) a lot of crosswordese-type answers that less experienced solvers should make a mental note of. In the latter group, we have EKE, or [Barely manage, with "out"]. EOS is the [Dawn deity], the goddess of dawn. Brian ENO produced several U2 and David Byrne albums, I think, as well as being an "ambient music" composer. IOLA is a Kansas City with no other good way to clue it (not to be confused with the Scottish island, IONA). EIRE is [Cork's home], the Irish name for Ireland; if the clue hints at poetry and Ireland, the answer is ERIN. ENOS is [Eve's grandson] and about as popular in the grid as ESAU. An ANA is an [Anecdotal collection]. ASTRA means "stars" in Latin; the word is part of the Kansas state motto, Ad astra per aspera. [Pilate's "Behold!"] is ECCE and the [Westernmost Aleutian island] is ATTU; together, these evoke ET TU, Julius Caesar's rebuke. ALER and NLER show up in crosswords but not, I hear, in the sports pages; they're American and National League baseball players. [Columnist Barrett] is one RONA; author Jaffe is another. CREE is clued [Hudson Bay native]; any 4-letter answer that refers to a tribe in Canada is invariably CREE.

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Head of Steam," has three theme entries whose first words can follow "steam": IRON CURTAIN, HEAT OF THE MOMENT, and ROLLER DERBY. The Across 9's and 10's aren't part of the theme. I rather like A WHOLE LOT, clued as [Bunches and bunches]; PLOPPED, or [Sat without ceremony]; FATHOM clued as [Six feet under?]; and [Sauce whose name is Italian for "pounded"] for PESTO. I sort of rolled an eye when I saw HAREM in the grid, clued as [Confines for concubines]—and when I encountered WENCH clued as [Working girl], I mentally filed the puzzle away in the dustbin of sexist terminology.