December 30, 2008

Wednesday, 12/31

Tausig 4:30
LAT 4:10
NYT 4:06 by the time I found the typo
Sun 3:59
Onion 3:35
CS 3:15

(updated at 10:30 Wednesday morning)

Hey! I just reserved my room at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott and booked my flight for the 2009 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. The Friday evening program includes a panel about crossword blogging. Listen, don't ask me hard questions if you want me to look smart, okay? (Ridiculously hard questions for the other folks are fine, of course.) Thanks. I hope to see many of you in Brooklyn!

Tim Wescott's New York Times crossword has a foursome of 15-letter entries, but those aren't exactly the theme answers—rather, the theme lies within the first letter of each and a trio of letters in the middle. The center of the grid has a WWW, [Letters after two slashes]. The first letters of the four 15's spell out HTTP, or hypertext transfer protocol. The circled letters within each 15 are a web domain:

  • [Feel like quarreling about something] clues HAVE A BONE TO PICK.
  • [No halfway effort] is TOTAL COMMITMENT. This phrase seems like a weird choice for a crossword answer.
  • [Basis of a false arrest, perhaps] is a TRUMPED-UP CHARGE.
  • [Going past the fourth quarter, say] clues PLAYING OVERTIME. "In overtime" is what I'd say, not "playing overtime."
I like the visual twist of the theme, but would be happier if the 15's were more unimpeachable as crossword fill and if the 3-letter domains were all split across answer words.

I blew a half minute or so in the applet by typing DUKE instead of [Dick Van ___] DYKE. Dang those adjacent-key typos that yield plausible words in one direction! Toughest answer in the grid: YAKUT, or [Native of NE Siberia]. Those Yakut folks are thousands of miles from the URALS, a [Range extending south from the Kara Sea]. Biggest duplication: ONE P.M. is a [Common lunch hr.], while U.S. ONE is an [Auto route from Me. to Fla.]. Tastiest answer: GUMBO, clued as [Okra stew]; my husband just polished off the last of Sunday's carryout gumbo from Heaven on Seven. Favorite answers: SKORTS are [Women's hybrid clothing], the spork of fashion; and SCREWY means [Off the wall].

Do you know how many 4-letter words there are for your rear end? In Patrick Blindauer's Sun crossword, "Rear Ends," he's taken six 4-letter rears and split them in half, putting 2 letters at each end of a longer phrase:
  • [Belmont Park statue subject] is the horse SECRETARIAT, which is embraced by a SE AT.
  • [Farm laborer] clues HIRED HAND, with a HIND.
  • TUNA FISH is a [Melt ingredient] and is bracketed by a TUSH.
  • DUSTS OFF means [Takes out for use after a period of inactivity]. DUFF is also the beer brand on The Simpsons.
  • Lou Costello's ["Pardon My Sarong" costar] is BUD ABBOTT, who lives inside a BUTT.
  • To RUBBERSTAMP is to [Endorse without question], clasped by RUMP.
The British prat and arse are left out, as are the assorted 3-, 5-, 6-, and 7-letter synonyms. Twenty points to Patrick for working in six theme entries without forcing untoward compromises in fill. A bonus of 5 points for BUMPPO, or [Natty of literature]. I don't know what James Fenimore Cooper was thinking when he came up with that character name for The Last of the Mohicans. (You're picturing Daniel Day-Lewis in his flowing locks promising "I will find you!" now, aren't you?)

This is the week for butt themes, apparently, because Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Bum Deal," is also fixated on the hindquarters. The term ASS BACKWARDS holds the key here: The other three theme answers contain synonyms for your rear end (or maybe somebody else's) backwards. To wit:
  • [Rocker's plectrum] hits us up with some guitar vocabulary—that's a GUITAR PICK. The word PRAT appears backwards within it.
  • Comedian DANA CARVEY is Wayne's World's [Garth Algar, in real life]. He's got a CAN facing the wrong way.
  • Turn around a TEST-TUBE BABY, or [Conception breakthrough of the 1970s], to find a BUTT.
ASS BACKWARDS is definitely "in the language" these days, but would be verboten in your standard daily crossword puzzle. I'm glad we have these other indie xwords opening up new angles in puzzling.
(Whoops, that's last week's puzzle, and Angela blogged it last week, and I did actually read that post.)

Highlights in the clues and fill:
  • SPIRO is clued as [Agnew whose name has at least two famous anagrams]. Hmm, I had to Google this. They're "grow a spine" and "grow a penis."
  • [Cambodian tongue] is KHMER. That mash-up of consonants looks wrong until you figure out the answer.
  • [Southern rapper Young ___] JEEZY doesn't get much play on the crossword page. Definitely a better name than Natty Bumppo.
  • The MINK is a [Muskrat eater]? Who knew? The Captain and Tennille's "Muskrat Love" didn't warn of the mink menace, did it?
  • I didn't know YAHTZEE was a [Yahoo! Games staple]. Are there any other double-Yah__ combos out there?
  • BEAVIS, of Beavis & Butthead fame, is the [Cornholio alter ego].
Deb Amlen celebrates New Year's Eve in her Onion A.V. Club crossword. Deb groups four staples of the evening, pairs them with various beginning words, and gives them holiday clues. You have a toast at a party, the Waterford ball drops in Times Square, and people make resolutions for the coming year:
  • [New Year's hair-of-the-dog breakfast?] is CHAMPAGNE TOAST. The original NYE thing is a champagne toast, so this theme entry feels a bit off to me. Is this TOAST toasted bread at breakfast?
  • [New Year's soiree that brings in the bucks?] is a STAG PARTY. Stags are male deer, or bucks. Most NYE parties are not stag parties—maybe in Boystown they are.
  • [New Year's item "'dropped" in a brothel?] is a BEN WA BALL. If you don't know what that means, I will leave the Googling to you. Be forewarned, it's a sex thing and highly unlikely to be mentioned in the New York Times.
  • [New Year's promise made to one's self while stoned?] is a HIGH RESOLUTION. High-resolution images are crisp and clear. Usage question: Shouldn't that be "oneself"?
Favorite clues:
  • ["Schyah!"] means the exclamation AS IF.
  • BEAKER is [Dr. Bunsen Honeydew's assistant at Muppet Labs].
  • "ZING!" is a [Possibly sarcastic joke response].
  • Captain AHAB is that ["Grand, ungodly, godlike man" of fiction]. Who doesn't like a non-Omoo Melville reference? 

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle for this week is called "Chasing Out the Rats." 2008 was the Year of the Rat, and 2009 will be the YEAR OF THE OX. That joins six other theme entries that end with OX:
  • MAGNAVOX is a [Blu-ray player maker]. Our new Sony PlayStation 3 also plays Blu-ray disks.
  • SLYLOCK FOX is a [Mysatery-solving comic strip character]. Who? I haven't seen this before.
  • The PENALTY BOX is [Where one goes after slashing].
  • DEWEY COX is John C. Reilly's ["Walk Hard" protagonist]. Is that movie worth seeing?
  • The RED SOX are a [Team owned by the New York Times, oddly]. How did I not know that? Hmm, could be my complete lack of interest in the Red Sox.
  • FT. KNOX is a [U.S. city with tons of expensive bars] of gold.
Other good stuff:
  • MYSPACE is a [Notoriously busy-looking site]. Facebook is much crisper, less appalling to grown-ups.
  • I like that BULL drops into the OX crossword, though it's clued as a [Vatican decree].
  • UNISEX is clued with [Like the name Blake]. Yep, that works.
  • This week's "music clue I didn't know at all" is [Johnny Rotten's post-Sex Pistols project, for short]. The answer is PIL. That's Public Image Ltd., or PiL. I think this was in another indie crossword in recent months, so I should remember it.
  • BOK CHOY looks tasty in the grid; it's a [Stir fry ingredient].
  • ["When is this thing over?"] clues a bored YAWN.
Pamela Amick Klawitter's LA Times crossword has APB'S, or [Emer. broadcasts (and this puzzle's hidden theme)] parked within the four theme entries. I was led astray by the theme answers all starting with S, though SNAP, SOAP, SCRAP, and SAP don't rhyme and have varying letter counts, so I was confused. The theme entries are:
  • SNAP BEANS, or [Casserole legumes]. I have never called green beans "snap beans." Nor have I eaten green bean casserole.
  • SOAP BOX DERBY is an [Annual world championship competition held in Akron].
  • SCRAPBOOKING is the [Subject of the how-to book "Keeping Memories Alive." I prefer to store the memories in my brain. Much less hassle that way.
  • SAP BUCKET is a [Sugar shack vessel]. I think this is maple sap and a sugar shack's where syrup gets its start. Mmm, maple syrup.
Who doesn't love those [Mythological vengeance deities] known as the FURIES? The [Rodent yielding the fur nutria] is, as luck would have it, called the nutria. It is also called the COYPU. The scientific name of this "large semiaquatic beaverlike rodent" is Myocaster coypus. The word coypu is from the Araucanian (an Indian language family from Chile and Argentina). [Hawaii's "Gathering Place"] is OAHU.

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Count Me In," counts in a ME to change each theme entry's base phrase into something new:
  • [Contests in which little energy is expended?] are INERT GAMES. We see INERT gases used as dull fill often enough—it's good to extract more value from it by playing around with it.
  • [Milne's marsupial lover?] is KANGAROMEO. Kangaroo + ME = Roo's mom Kanga + Romeo. Good play.
  • [Get-together of Mr. Universe contestants?] is a HE-MEN PARTY. Nice expansion of hen party.
  • [Scarsdale and South Beach?] are FAMED DIETS and also fad diets, with or without the ME.
This theme type isn't an innovative one, no, but I admire the deft execution of a standard theme variety. The crossword is improved further by lots of longist fill—a NERF BALL crossing SELF-HELP, DODDERS crossing Lou DOBBS, a TANGRAM [Puzzle with geometric shapes], and a STOGIE, for instance. I'm also partial to the [German name for Cologne], KOLN (Köln, actually). I appreciate it when those high-school German classes come in handy.