December 09, 2008

Wednesday, 12/10

Tausig 5:21
Onion 4:44
NYT 4:36
CS 4:20
Sun 4:01
LAT 3:15

First off, the Wednesday New York Times puzzle is a Thursday puzzle appearing a day early. Some of that fill just isn't Wednesday-midgrade in difficulty, and the tough spots would be hard to Google one's way out of. It could even be Friday-level difficulty. Joe Krozel's theme/gimmick is that in the corners, there are highlighted 3x3 squares that contain only vowels. (Judging by the frequency of his byline, Joe now accounts for 20% of the puzzles being submitted to the NYT.) Some of the entries that contribute to those vowel packs are good—like RITEAID ([Walgreens rival], and yes, the store has no apostrophe), KERFLOOEY ([Out of whack]), and MATT LAUER ([Longtime morning TV host]). Some are not so good—NO AIR is a [Condition in outer space], to REAUDIT is to [Check again, as the books], SAUER is a [Kraut modifier]. And three rely on IN—YOU IN ([Query at a poker table]), and CUE IN ([Make aware]) crossing DUE IN ([Expected]). (There are other prepositional phrases all over the grid—ASK TO, GETS AT, TEE UP, LAP OF, ATE OUT, AS TO, VOTE OUT, LAY-UP, LIE AROUND, and ONS. Plus an UPDO despite two other UPs. Too many prepositions? Maybe.) I hated TOE OF FROG as the [Ingredient in a witches' brew] until I saw that it's the next ingredient after "eye of newt" in the MacBeth witches' cauldron. AEIOU is clued as [Language quintet comprising the only elements in the circled boxes]. (A couple clues later, there's an all-consonant answer, PRNDL or [Gearshift sequence], as in park, reverse, neutral, drive, low.)

The vowel density boxes force some compromises in the neighboring fill. Right there at 1-Across! [Cavern] clues ANTRE, which appears in the NYT crossword about once every five years. Tough to Google a one-word clue if that's your trouble spot, no? Two words later is OSSE, [Bone: Prefix]. [Ranch extension?] is ERO. [Seminary degs.] are THDS (Th.D.'s), though that's probably more pliable than ANTRE.

Elsewhere in the grid, we have these:

  • FIFTH is the [Award place for a green ribbon]; I didn't know that. What color is fourth place?
  • TORTURED is clued, fortunately, as [Stretched much too far, as language].
  • The RED ARMY was the [Soviet military force].
  • I blanked on the correct vowel sequence in [Hors ___]. It's D'OEUVRES.
  • [Part of U.N.C.F.] is NEGRO—the United Negro College Fund.
  • [Globe circler of 1889-90] is Nellie BLY. This is one of those factoids I learned from doing crosswords when I was 12. Her B crosses BEE-EATER, a bird that's a [Relative of a kingfisher].
  • HOOEY, or [Rubbish], crosses KERFLOOEY with a nice rhyme.
Alan Arbesfeld's Sun crossword gives away its theme in the title if you know how to parse it: "Stick Pin Swords" means "stick 'P' in S-words." In each theme answer, a P has been stuck in an S-word to make it an SP-word:
  • [Reason to stop filming "Star Trek"?] is SPOCK'S AWAY.
  • [First comment from a certain doctor?] is ORIGINAL SPIN. I filled in this one without reading the clue once ORIGIN was in place.
  • [Insecure vet's admission?] is IT'S HARD TO SPAY.
  • [Bee winners, usually?] are the BEST SPELLERS. Cute! Who doesn't like spelling bee winners?
  • [Cash for methamphetamines?] is SPEED MONEY.
Favorite morsels:
  • YEAH SURE and TREATIES sandwich the middle theme entry with smooth crossings.
  • [Royal headwear?] is a baseball CAP for the Kansas City Royals, not a crown for royalty.
  • [Casino game for egomaniacs?: Abbr.] is ANAG., short for anagram. Terrible entry, but what a clue.
  • [Dinner leftovers?] are DIRTY DISHES, alas.
  • [What to do to achieve your dreams?] is SLEEP. This is perfect for the ambitious among us.
  • TONY is clued as the ["Copacabana" bartender].
Hey! Speaking of the Sun crossword in general, if you like themeless puzzles and haven't subscribed yet, I hear the next few weeks' worth of themelesses are well worth the money.

Ben Tausig's Onion A.V. Club crossword provides some NEW BLOOD (61-Across) in the theme entries—the universal donor here is type O blood, and the letter O replaces an A, B, or AB in six phrases:
  • [Film part shot at the dairy farm?] is MOO SCENE (mob scene).
  • [Move around the rowboat?] is OARHOP (barhop).
  • [Rejected spreadable soda variety?] is CHEESE COKE (cheesecake). Eww! Good theme entry there.
  • [Numismatist's affliction?] is COIN FEVER (cabin fever).
  • [Right-leaning R&B act?] is THE G.O.P. BAND (the Gap Band).
  • [Broadcast with updates about Disneyland?] is OC NEWS (ABC News).
Assorted fill and clues I liked:
  • YOU GOT ME means I have ["No clue..."].
  • [Murdoch and Kidman, e.g.]—Rupert and Nicole—are both AUSSIES.
  • ETHANOL is a [Fuel that yields a net energy loss] when you account for the energy costs of producing it.
  • ARSENAL is clued as [Man U opponent]. Can you name all the members of the English Premier League? I sure can't, but has a quiz for that.
  • An online [Viral phenomenon] is a MEME.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Entanglements," changes some phrases that double up on the N sound in the middle by knocking out the second one. For example, garden gnome becomes GARDEN OHM, or {Source of power for horticultural equipment], and maiden name turns into MAIDEN AIM, or [Finding a knight in shining armor?]. Two clue/answer combos you wouldn't find in the daily newspaper are HORNY, clued as [Ready to go, in a way], and HUNG, or [Well-endowed, as it were]. I suspect NINJUTSU, the [Stealthy martial art], has to do with ninjas, but the word is new to me. Coincidentally, this puzzle echoes the Chicago news—a BUG is a [Listening device] all right. ETHICS is clued in relation to ENRON, so the lack of ethics comes to the fore as it does with Blago. CRIME, Q AND A (see also: Patrick Fitzgerald press conference), and WEAR THIN, as in "this political corruption thing is wearing thin, but boy, is it entertaining."

The LA Times crossword generally tracks the NYT difficulty scale more closely than other puzzles. Today's offering from Donna Levin hits right at a Wednesday NYT level—only this Wednesday, the NYT strayed afield of that. The theme is a basic one—four things that are all a [Shell] of some sort. There's a LIGHT RACING BOAT, SLEEVELESS TOP, WEAPON CASING, and HOME FOR A SCALLOP. Favorite parts:
  • AU JUS, clued as [Way to serve roast beef], always makes me think of "served with au jus sauce," which you know has appeared on a menu somewhere.
  • [Not in the closet] is clued as OUT. I like this.
  • WHATEVER is a [Resigned response often accompanied by eye-rolling].
  • The BIG EASY is a [Southern city nickname, with "the"].
  • NERO [played the lyre, not the fiddle].
Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Starch of Bethlehem," adds a CH to alter four phrases:
  • ["Sorry, I only meant to poke you gently"] clues NO PUNCH INTENDED.
  • [Tutor twins?] is to TEACH FOR TWO.
  • [Elope?] clues HITCH AND RUN.
  • [Record of an imaginary success?] is NOTCH FOR NOTHING.