January 05, 2009

Tuesday, 1/6

Onion 5:47
Sun 4:58
Tausig 4:43
CS 3:32
LAT 3:30
NYT 3:03

(updated at 12:30 Tuesday afternoon)

I got distracted after doing John Greenman's New York Times crossword, digging around Google's world trying to find a picture of somebody tall, dark, and handsome. These days, nobody seems to fit the MATINEE IDOL tag while simultaneously being tall, dark, and handsome. But then, matinees are for people looking to save a few bucks on a movie now. For an old-school idol, there's Montgomery Clift, but does 5'10" count as tall? Anyway...the three theme entries that begin with MATINEE IDOL characteristics are:

  • TALL STORIES, clued with [They're hard to believe].
  • DARK VICTORY, a [1939 Bette Davis drama] I know nothing about. Dark Shadows, I've heard of.
  • HANDSOME SUM is [A big pile of cash].
Even aside from the theme, this puzzle had a bit of an old-fashioned feel to it. Some entries that fit that vibe are NEON LAMP, or [Source of orange-red light]; ADAMANTS, or [Unbreakable stones of legend]; ALULA, completing ["Be-Bop-___" (Gene Vincent hit)]; CARS clued as [Dodgem units]; SPOT, [Dick and Jane's dog]; Ann LEE of the Shakers; LOAM, or [Clayey soil]; and ORB, or [Sun or moon, to bards]. No, Laila ALI, PAPA John's pizza, Hall & OATES, Kofi ANNAN, and Monica SELES wouldn't have been in an older crossword—and perhaps not the Alka-Seltzer PLOP either. You know what's part of the [Beach atmosphere] in some places (but not the Great Lakes)?? SEA AIR. That stuff is magical. Maybe not so much in the CASPIAN (the [Sea fed by the Volga] that crosses SEA AIR), but definitely in the Caribbean.

Am I tired because it's getting toward bedtime, or is Kelsey Blakley's Sun crossword, "Turnabout is Vowel Play," really much tougher than most Tuesday Suns? The theme should've dawned on me faster—words or phrases with the vowels in reverse UOIEA order—but plenty of answers in the fill also slowed me down. [Ice dancer Grushina] is named ELENA? There's a Mets pitcher names OLLIE Perez? The Pirates are called the BUCS in headlines? The [Coin with the presidential seal on the reverse] is called the HALF, and not the half-dollar? There's a Loggins & Messina album called SO FINE? There's a Midwest League team called the PEORIA Chiefs that play some unknown sport? Rebecca De Mornay had a movie called FEDS? That's a helluva lot of "just plain had no idea" answers to be floating around in a Tuesday Sun puzzle. With different clues, it could have been a more straightforward solve for me. UNOCCIDENTAL seems a bit forced as a theme entry; based on a Google search, I say...yeah, that's not a real word. [Italian painter Duccio di ___] BUONINSEGNA is completely unknown to me, too. It's all making me grumbly. Ah, well—I will most likely enjoy Kelsey's next puzzle.


Hmm, I am not in much of a crossword mood this morning. Weird. It's so not like me! There are four crosswords staring me in the face (figuratively speaking), so I'd best get on with it. You know what I did just now, while writing this short paragraph? I wandered off and spent a few minutes cleaning the bathroom window. I told you I wasn't into puzzles today.

Donna Levin's LA Times crossword makes you sing "Shake, Rattle and Roll," the words at the ends of the theme entries:
  • VANILLA SHAKE is a [Malt shop order].
  • BABY RATTLE is a [Crib toy].
  • SPRING ROLL is a [Crispy Asian appetizer] sometimes. And sometimes a spring roll has a soft, unfried wrapper.
BIG JOE TURNER is the [Bluesman who introduced the hit suggested by the ends of 20-. 37- and 43-Across]. I regret to inform you that I don't know anything about Big Joe. Time for education! Here's a video of Big Joe singing his 1954 hit back in the day before everyone and their brother recorded cover versions. (Watch for the tall, dark, and handsome saxophonist.) I was surprised to read that the Bill Haley and Elvis covers were released in 1954 and '56—seems like more recent artists cover older songs, not recent hits. Or am I out of touch?

Favorite answer: UNEDITED, [Like many YouTube videos]. I tell ya, competent editing is a big plus in film and video, in writing, and even in crossword puzzles. Thanks to Donna and to editor Rich Norris for bringing us this crossword and its musical lesson—I should've known about Big Joe Turner's role in the birth of rock 'n roll, and I didn't, but now I know as much as is included in a single Wikipedia article and YouTube clip.

Paula Gamache has snuck a bunch of interesting stuff into her CrosSynergy puzzle, "Advanced Degree." The theme entries all contain a hidden NTH (65-Down) in their midst:
  • [Gardener's "gift"] is a GREEN THUMB. My thumbs are resolutely flesh-toned.
  • MOUNT HOLYOKE is a [Massachusetts college named for a nearby peak]. I went to a coed school in MINN. ([State where Garrison Keillor was born (abbr.)], but then started my career in publishing in an office that was about 70% female. Staff meetings had the feeling of a women's college sometimes—I hope every young woman has the opportunity to flourish in a mostly female environment early on. It helps.
  • COTTON THREAD is what's [used to stitch baseballs]. Did you know this? I would've thought they used something more durable.
  • A [Pinto] is a PAINT HORSE. That means spotted, doesn't it?
There were various resonances in this puzzle. AT SEA means [Flummoxed], while AT BAY means [Cornered]. In this phrase, "bay" is an entirely different word (the one that relates to howling of dogs) than the "bay" that's a body of water—so don't start looking for "at river" and "at lake" idioms. South Asia gets the TAMIL [Language spoken in Sri Lanka] and NEPAL, the [Himalayan kingdom]. French nighttime is evoked by a BOITE, or [Cabaret], and the color NOIRE, clued with [Bete ___]. [Bank ___ (international financial institution based in Israel] is Bank LEUMI, and I recognized this one because there is (or maybe was) a prominent sign on a building on LaSalle Street (where I used to work), Chicago's financial 'hood. It's crossing two answers that might not be gimmes for that many people—ALTA is a [Ski area near Salt Lake City], and CARA MIA ("my dear," I think) is an [Italian term of endearment].

Matt Jones constructed this week's Onion A.V. Club crossword. Matt generally likes to work a bunch of longer answers into his crossword fill, and this one's no different—28 non-theme answers are 6 to 9 letters long. The theme honors ALASKA, the [State celebrating its 50th anniversary in January 2009], by plunking its postal abbreviation, AK, into three phrases:
  • [NASA craft needed oiling?] clues APOLLO CREAKED, which is Rocky's nemesis Apollo Creed + AK. Any theme entry that builds on Apollo Creed is OK by me.
  • [Bring the "mee mee mee!" Muppet into the military?] was my downfall. It starts with DRAFT. DRAFT ANIMAL is a familiar phrase. Animal is a Muppet who doesn't speak much standard English. It's perfect, right? Yeah, except that Beaker is the Muppet in question, with DRAFT BEAKER being draft beer + AK. Dastardly trap, Matt!
  • [Singer Emmylou drank too much coffee?] spares us any intimations of meth addiction in the clue, fortunately. The answer is HARRIS TWEAKED, or Harris tweed + AK. 
There's a whole lot of pop culture in this puzzle, too. Rob REINER is ["The Bucket List" director]. Critic Leonard MALTIN panned Leonard Part 6. Singers Roy ORBISON and Joey MCINTYRE and [D'___ (soul singer)] ANGELO. Comedian Margaret CHO. Former Springsteen drummer Max WEINBERG leads Conan O'Brien's house band. T.R. KNIGHT is the [Actor who announced in December that he was leaving "Grey's Anatomy"]; he's the one who was called a gay slur by a castmate in that hullabaloo a couple years back. Freshest answers (aside from those already mentioned): MY PEOPLE are the ["Go Down Moses" crowd, in Moses' words], and CARNITAS is a [Slow-cooked Mexican meat]. Least favorite crossing: The intersection between BLOOBERS, the [Squid-like creatures in Super Mario Bros.], and OCR, the [Title IX-enforcing agency]. Now, if OCR had been clued in relation to optical character recognition as used in scanning (rather than the Office of Civil Rights abbreviation), this wouldn't have been a random guess between an R and an E. I am not up on the naming conventions in Super Mario Bros., alas.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader puzzle, "Putting Yourself Last," drops a ME onto the end of five assorted words or phrases to alter their meaning. The theme doesn't do too much for me, but there are tons of great clues in this puzzle so I enjoyed it a lot. First up, the theme entries:
  • [Paradise that isn't all it's cracked up to be?] is SHANGRI-LAME.
  • [Turbo-charged taco garnish?] is JET LIME. Nice use of Jet Li's name as the base for a longer crossword answer. I don't see tacos garnished with limes where I hang out, though. Why not a turbo-charged Corona garnish?
  • Edible antipasti become the ANTI PASTIME, [Fun-hating?].
  • PayPal expands to PAY PALME, a [Cannes prize for sale?], referring to the Palme d'Or.
  • [Result of wearing and then removing a hat?] might be a HAIR DOME.
This crossword has a few violations of the daily-crossword breakfast test: AHH is clued as meaning ["Oh, man, I really needed to let that out"]. [Certain cleansing measures] are ENEMAS, the word (in the singular) that constructor Merl Reagle said in Wordplay would bail him out of a tough corner if only he could put it in his puzzle. Another breaktest test no-no is PEE meaning urine, but here that turns out to be part of a great cluing one-two punch: First you get [No. 2] and the answer is ASST., short for "assistant," and then the very next clue is [No. 1]. Hmm, 3 letters; something like CEO? No, it's PEE! Excellent pay-off for the set-up. Other favorite clues and answers: DR. PEPPER! [Call for Indian, say], or ORDER IN, crosses [Colonial rule in India], or RAJ. [Target of a 2006 food recall] was SPINACH; topicality definitely makes a vegetable a more lively crossword answer. FIDGETED is clued [Played with one's hands, say], and the next clue is [Makes a hand more interesting] in poker, or RAISES. This pairing and the No. 1/No. 2 pair remind me of Bob Klahn's clue-combo habit. [Make fine?] clues MINCE, as in dicing finely. HASBRO being [The only company authorized to make Monopoly] reminds me—I saw a headline yesterday about a deal between the Cubs and Milton Bradley, and I assumed the board game company was buying the Cubs. Turns out the Cubs have signed an outfielder named Milton Bradley. What were his parents thinking?? [Small pricks?] are just TINGLES, and no, that's not a euphemism. [Intl. group] is an NGO, or nongovernmental organization like Doctors Without Borders.