January 02, 2009

Saturday, 1/3

Newsday 19:52
NYT 7:53
LAT 5:37
CS 3:19

(updated at 12:24 p.m. Saturday)

The Peter Wentz who constructed the Saturday New York Times crossword is probably not the same person as rocker Pete Wentz who married Ashlee Simpson and named a baby Bronx Mowgli—but I'm looking forward to the first crossword to include BRONXMOWGLI in the fill. (It wouldn't have been out of place in this puzzle, actually.) At this writing, the top solver on the NYT online applet is Byron Walden, and this makes perfect sense because he used 3-Down, the [1993 hit for the R&B duo Zhane], in a 2006 Sun crossword—it's HEY MR. D.J. I still don't know what the song sounds like, as I know it only from crosswords. Overall, I liked Wentz's puzzle a lot—it's chock-full of interesting answers and clues that made me think.

My favorite fill:

  • [Brewer Joseph] SCHLITZ. Six consonants to one vowel, with a final Z? Good stuff.
  • The tone of I HEAR YA is accurately conveyed by ["Comin' through loud and clear"].
  • "YOU MIND?" is a [Curt comment to an ogler]. Technically, YA and YOU qualify as a semantic duplication, but I don't mind.
  • What the hell is NEOJAZZ? It's [Hard bop, e.g.], and it has two final Z's.
  • MAYAN and NAHUATL reverberate nicely—one is clued [Like the Topoxte archaeological site] and the other, [Language of central Mexico]. Head a little north for the MOJAVE Desert, a [Setting for Joshua trees].
  • [Passed pleasantly] clues WHILED, as in "whiled away the hours."
  • KIKI DEE, perhaps best known from her duet with Elton John, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," is the [Singer of the 1974 hit, "I've Got the Music in Me"]. Back then, I assumed that Elton and Kiki were an item.
  • AMY ADAMS was the [2005 Best Supporting Actress nominee for "Junebug"].
  • The EVIL EYE is a [Supposed bringer of bad luck].
  • I guessed LOSE HOPE for [Become despondent] with no letters in place—what else could it be? Maybe GIVE UP ON.
  • ALL THAT is [Something great, informally]. Memo to my readers: My mom said a lasagna sauce was "the bomb" last night, so if you're still using that slang, it's time to drop it. It's in the senior citizen lingo now. No longer hip.
  • With the Z's in this grid, of course there's also a Q in QUACKS—[They treat people badly].
    [With 41-Down, cheap fast food offerings] make up the VALUE / MENU.
And now, the clues that caught my eye:
  • [Where things get checked] is the COATROOM.
  • An ALLEY is [No place for a big rig]. That is the truth—the driveway/alley next to my building sometimes stymies truck drivers trying to squeeze between the buildings to make a delivery. 
  • [Magellan visited it] clues VENUS, Magellan being a NASA craft and not the guy named Ferdinand.
  • [People who may be removed] are COUSINS, as in "first cousin, once removed."
  • [Ingredient in some chips] is OLESTRA, which is in FAT-FREE chips.
  • SIKHISM [rejects the caste system and idolatry].
  • [Counselor's area] is the LAW. Can you hear Robert De Niro's character calling, "Counselor!" to Nick Nolte in Cape Fear? Creepy.
  • [Hard stuff] is both IRON and BOOZE.
  • [Bouquet setting] is a WINE BAR.
Things I didn't know:
  • CHEERIO is an [English toast]? I thought it was more of a farewell.
  • [David who caught a key pass in the 2008 Super Bowl] is TYREE.
  • [1986-93 war-themed Marvel Comics series, with "The"] is a pop-culture clue for NAM.
  • ["Treasure Island" hero] is HAWKINS.
  • ELO is the ["Eldorado" group]. How many groups have song titles that consist of letters inserted into the band name.
  • EMF is an [Energy expressed in volts: Abbr.]. Electromagnetic frequency, I presume?
Other factoids:
  • MORAVIA is a [Region south of Silesia].
  • The [Greek goddess of youth] is HEBE.
  • NELL was the [Mistress of Charles II].
  • TSP, or one teaspoon, is [About 20 pinches: Abbr].
  • Pia ZADORA was the ["Butterfly" star, 1981].
  • '20s boxer Jack DEMPSEY was the ["Honey, I just forgot to duck" speaker]. When Ronald Reagan was shot, he borrowed the famous line, but left out the "just."
  • LUKE is the [Patron saint of surgeons]. Hence the various St. Luke's Hospital names out there...

Either Stanley Newman's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" clues were significantly more oblique than usual, or I'm a little off this morning. (Solution here.) Not only did it take me twice as long as the toughest NYT Saturday puzzles, but I also Googled one clue and had one incorrect square. The clue I Googled was [The story of Astorre Viola], which turns out to be Mario Puzo's 2000 novel OMERTA. I call foul, because I'm skeptical that this character is familiar enough to point the majority of us who've never read the book anywhere near the right answer; it's hardly got the degree of traction in the broader culture that, say, Harry Potter characters have. I figured the answer was likely to be an opera.

My wrong letter was a P in lieu of the C in CLEAT, or [Gangway securer]. Raise your hand if you didn't know that gangways and cleats had any interaction. I checked two dictionaries and see no support for this. Who likes a clue that requires you to pick up the unabridged dictionary (the third one I checked!) to find an uncommon usage for a common word? Boo! Hiss! Takes the fun out of a tough crossword. PUT IN isn't too far off for [Interrupt], though I guess CUT IN is a notch better.

There was plenty of good stuff in the puzzle, so it didn't all spur resentment. The [Only Welsh-born Batman] portrayer is Christian BALE; why did it take me so long to remember the most recent Dark Knight? I was all set to like the gender neutrality of [Repairperson], but then the answer was the very male HANDY ANDY. [Sports retiree of 2008] is Monica SELES—and here we all thought she'd retired years ago. Whatever comeback she might have had apparently didn't make much of a splash. GAINS ON is clued as [Tries to catch]. NEE is clued as a [Form of "naître"]; I like the French lesson. "OH, PLEASE" is an [Impatient plaint]. I kept thinking of domesticated animals for [It was domesticated in the Andes about 4,000 years ago]—the answer is the LIMA BEAN. [Do as the Romans do] is GO NATIVE. I'm fond of nutty little bits of trivia, like MACON being where the kazoo was invented.

I had a number of wrong turns that kept me mired in this puzzle. [Battery, for example] is a TORT, but I stuck with Battery PARK for too long. [Seven-Oscar nominee in the '80s] is ALIENS, but I put STREEP there. [Quacks] were POSERS instead of FAKERS. I kept those ones written into the grid even when not a single solid crossing emerged from them—whoops. I just plain didn't know this: [Most of it became a unit of Cal State] clues FT. ORD. Some of Fort Ord's space is now the home of California State University, Monterey Bay. The campus gets foggy.

I don't like STATINS for [Doctor's prescriptions] because it's too damned arbitrary; statins are merely one class of medication, and the clue lacks any specificity. ANAT., or anatomy, is the study of all the body's parts—[Organ study: Abbr.], yes, but also the skeleton, muscles, vascular system, nerves, etc. This clue's too specific.

Overall, Michael Wiesenberg's LA Times crossword was much more yielding than those other two themeless puzzles, but I still don't know why [Brewer of lore] is CRONE. I trust one of you readers can explain this to me? It took me a long time to figure out why [Crane part?] was HOGAN—construction cranes? birds?—but I finally remembered actor Bob Crane of Hogan's Heroes. A good "aha" moment after the fact! What else is in this puzzle? Lots of things:
  • [Front end?] is CEASEFIRE, as in an end to hostilities at the battlefront.
  • [Circles] of friends are COTERIES. Anyone else try to wedge ROTARIES in there?
  • [Diamond figure] is ONE CARAT. Sometimes I don't like the arbitrariness of a number + unit of measure being used as crossword fill. But the convention of the one-carat diamond makes this one work.
  • [Noted hit maker, with "the"] is the WHO. No, wait, it's the MOB. Crime, not music.
  • GARGANTUA, the [Rabelaisian giant], is the source of the adjective gargantuan. How many fictional names have spun off adjectives? For place names, we have Lilliputian.
  • [Ristorante dish] is OSSO BUCCO. It's also spelled osso buco.
  • I like the aligned twin CATs in CAT'S EYE, the [Reflective gemstone], and CATALAN, [Like Dali or Miro].
  • The MANTA can indeed be a [Reef denizen], but I didn't see any mantas from the tourist submarine off Grand Cayman last week. Fish, garden eels, and sea turtles, yes.
Patrick Blindauer pays a little tribute to Harry Houdini and the tools of his trade in his CrosSynergy crossword, "Houdini's Favorite..." Five things Houdini would supposedly prefer make up the theme:
  • [Houdini's favorite vacation spot?] would be the FLORIDA KEYS, since Houdini was always locking himself up.
  • His favorite [...place to shop?] would be a CHAIN STORE, what with Houdini's getting chained up.
  • [...kind of circus performer?] would be a TUMBLER, since locks have tumblers aligned by keys.
  • [...wrestling move?] is HAMMER LOCK, owing to the lock.
  • [...basketball maneuver?] is PICK AND ROLL, for picking a lock, I guess. The theme entries don't all have the Houdini tie-in in the same place, so I'm not positive.
The fill includes a dozen 7-letter answers, giving the puzzle a smidgen of an easy themeless vibe. I filled in the southwest corner with the Down clues, so I didn't spot ORANGE in there right away. The clue for my screen name: [Its peel makes a good slug repellent]. Good to know!