January 07, 2009

Thursday, 1/8

LAT 4:48
Sun 4:40
NYT 4:34
CS 2:48

(updated at 9:15 a.m. Thursday)

The Sun "Themeless Thursday" puzzle is a reminder of how enjoyable Mike Nothnagel's crosswords are. If you're a fan too, check your local bookstore or newsstand for the February 2009 issue of Games—the World's Most Ornery Crossword is a plus-sized 25x25 themeless, and this one by Mike is the funnest Ornery I've done in ages. Mike told me they used most of his clues, so it seems I approve of his cluing style as much as his fill. His Sun crossword bears the usual hallmarks—lovely lively fill. Highlights for me (as opposed to Highlights for Children):

  • The marquee entry is DRUGSTORE COWBOY, the [1989 Matt Dillon film], sharing the lead with the two-Q QUEBEC NORDIQUES hockey team, the [Colorado Avalanche, formerly].
  • KAMIKAZE gets an etymology clue that's new to me—[Literally, "divine wind"]. Another Japanese K word appears in the clue for EDYS, crossing KAMIKAZE at the E: [Maker of Mint Karaoke Cookie ice cream]. May I just say that ice cream flavor makes no sense to me?
  • You know how many 5-letter words can be a [Mattress cover]? There's a QUILT and a DUVET in addition to a SHEET. The SHEET, of course, is the only one that specifically covers a mattress rather than the bed.
  • Game show fun! FREE SPIN is a ["Wheel of Fortune" bonus], and Jeopardy!'s Alex TREBEK was a [Frequent Ferrell "SNL" role].
  • Mike teaches math. Is he well acquainted with [Lectures] = TALKS AT?
  • TRUMP PLAZA has been an [Atlantic City landmark since 1984]. The new Trump International Hotel & Tower has been a Chicago landmark for weeks now.
  • PROVE IT is clued as an ["I don't believe you" follower].
  • ["How many of each animal did Moses take on the ark?" is one] example of a TRICK QUESTION.
  • To [Push it, in a way] is to ASK TOO MUCH.
In Joe DiPietro's New York Times crossword, five phrases in which the first word starts with S and ends with -ING lose the -ING, which changes the meaning of the phrase. The de-INGed word becomes a noun used to modify another noun (I know there's a term for that). Here are the theme entries:
  • SHOOT STARS are [Supermodels?] at the photo shoot. Shooting stars, on the other hand, are meteors. 
  • STOCK STUFFER might be [One who fattens up cattle?] livestock. Stocking stuffers are what Santa leaves in your stocking.
  • SERVE SUGGESTION is a [Bit of advice from a tennis coach?]. A serving suggestion is what's depicted on the box for a prepared food—like fresh sliced strawberries in a bowl of cereal when no berries are included inside the box.
  • SWING SINGLES are [45s from Count Basie and Benny Goodman?], 45s being records with a song on each side. Have today's college students seen 45s? Swinging singles may be found hitting on one another at singles bars, and are not to be confused with swinging couples.
  • The SLIDE SCALE runs [From gentle to steep for some playground equipment?]. With a sliding scale, people pay different amounts for something based on what they can afford. 
I like the base phrases, but the de-INGed results don't sing to me. In the fill, there are a few names I don't know, and a couple I do. The Jim [Nabors role] is Gomer PYLE; got that. The [Pupil of Miss Crump, on TV] is OPIE; more decades-old TV, got it. [Nancy's aunt in Nancy Drew mysteries] is named ELOISE; she had an aunt? [N.F.L. Hall-of-Famer Matson] is named OLLIE; never heard of him. ["Porgy" novelist ___ Heyward]'s first name is DUBOSE; Dubose Heyward is a delightfully weird name. [Sci-fi novelist ___ S. Tepper]'s first name is SHERI; never heard of her. The [R&B singer with the hit "Thong Song"] is SISQO; I know the name but not the song. [Last name in comedy] is MARX, as in Groucho, Harpo, et al.; got it. [Curly whacker] is MOE Howard, one of the Three Stooges; got that.

I like the varying Jets in the clues. The [Only Super Bowl won by the Jets] is III, while [The Jets, e.g.] are a GANG in West Side Story. There are two [Jot]s, too, a WHIT and an IOTA. There's no [Jut] clue, but close: [Just] means ONLY. There's not much information provided in the cross-referenced clues for 28-Down and 45-Down, GAS and a FILL-UP.


Don Gagliardo's LA Times crossword has a theme that takes a while to suss out because the clues for the first three theme answers is simply [?], and the grand unifying answer's clue is [Question that begs to be asked about 17-, 30- and 37-Across]. It turns out the question is WHERE DID IT ALL GO?—referring to the DISAPPEARING INK, VANISHING CREAM, and EVAPORATED MILK. Evaporated milk is actually quite easy to see, but I like the overall conceit anyway. Liveliest fill: RAISE HELL, or [Cause a ruckus]. So accustomed am I to the daily crossword's catering to the stereotypical great-grandma who gets the vapors, I wanted to put CAIN in there instead. Speaking of vapors, [Paralyze with mist, as an airport] almost looks like it's suggesting that TSA employees spray passengers with paralyzing mist, doesn't it? I bogged myself down with ICE IN (wrong! where's the mist?) instead of FOG IN, which led me to have CREW instead of OARS for [Trireme hands], too. [Word often seen in green] is obvious if you're solving the crossword while walking down a busy street, less so if you are sitting indoors—it's WALK. Also cute: Crossing PETRI dish with a TEST TUBE.

I don't at all recall ASTRES, ['70s Pontiac subcompacts]. I doubt I have ever used the word REINVOLVE, or [Bring back into play]. The lower left corner of this puzzle didn't please me at all. [Lateral lead-in] devoutly wished to be EQUI, because nobody much uses AMBIlateral; ambidextrous, yes. The ["Sands of Iwo Jima" director Allan] DWAN is not as famous these days as he might have hoped. The [Despondent cry] is "OH, ME," which I have never, ever said, and which could just as plausibly be AH ME, OH NO, or ALAS. [Some of the landed gentry] are DOWAGERS and [Birds' bills] are also called NEBS. Stretching down into this corner, too, is AT A LOW EBB, or [Declining seriously]. The idiom may date back four centuries and may be used in mainstream newspapers today, but it resisted my efforts to piece it together this morning.

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Five of a Kind," has a vowel progression theme, with five lively phrases swapping in A, E, I, O, and U to fill in the B*LLY___ space:
  • BALLYHOO is [Hype].
  • BELLYACHE is [Complain].
  • The BILLY GOATS GRUFF are [Fairy tale characters].
  • BOLLYWOOD is the [Film industry of India].
  • BULLY BOY is a [Tough guy].
Hartman probably didn't realize that Byron Walden did essentially the same theme (but with BELLYFLOP and the shorter BILLY GOAT) in his 11/23/01 NYT puzzle. The two puzzles are different—the older one was a tougher Friday puzzle, while today's is as easy as a Tuesday NYT. I like 'em both.