January 13, 2009

Wednesday, 1/14

Sun 5:50
BEQ 4:40
Tausig 4:17
Onion 3:55
NYT 3:53
LAT 3:13

(updated at 1:10 p.m. Wednesday)

Between a condo board meeting and watching the VH1 tribute to The Who (including a rare set from The Who themselves), TiVoed from the Palladia HD channel, it sure has gotten late, so I'll be quick here.

The New York Times crossword by Oliver Hill seems on the hard side for a Wednesday, doesn't it? Still shy of Thursday, though, so I guess that makes it a Wednesday puzzle after all, but a hard Wednesday. The theme entries have homophones for clues, and the answers are phrases that normally wouldn't pass muster as crossword fill—sort of a clue/answer reversal, with the 11- and 14-letter answers being suitable clues for the 3- and 4-letter clues, which are common crossword answers. Here they are:

  • [E'er] is ALWAYS, IN POETRY. I couldn't help myself—I just typed EER in all-caps at first.
  • [Heir] is a MONARCH-TO-BE. So's a caterpillar.
  • [Eyre] is Charlotte BRONTE'S JANE.
  • An [Air] about you might be a SNOBBISH MANNER.
Fair enough. But good gravy, what on earth is EXEGETE doing here in the middle of the week? That's an [Expert at interpreting a text], apparently. I wonder if anyone's messed up that T by not knowing that OTAY is [Buckwheat's affirmative].

Among the more interesting entries are these:
  • THE LARK is clued with [It's "ascending" in a Vaughan Williams piece]. Williams' inspiration for his musical work, The Lark Ascending, was a George Meredith poem called "The Lark Ascending." This is basically a 7-letter partial entry.
  • I like the English word SWALE, meaning a [Low-lying wetland].
  • FOODIES are [Zagat's readers, informally]—enthusiastic eaters who with adventurous palates who probably like GRUYERE, the [Cheese for French onion soup]. They may or may not be keen on ordering the COMBO, a [Money-saving restaurant offer]; depends on the food in question.
  • One's TAN LINE [may be hidden under a shirt].
  • The GREAT WHITE is a [Man-eating shark].
Peter Wentz's Sun crossword has a strong streak of lunacy to it. Most of the theme spells out what the theme is: 62-Down is THE AVERAGE / SCRABBLE SCORE OF / ALL THE LETTERS IN / THIS PUZZLE, or in other words, TWO. You've got your standard quantity of vowels, plus six Z's, two X's, plus all sorts of other letters, and they somehow all average out to 2 points per letter using Scrabble tile values? I'm thinking that was no mean feat, constructing this puzzle so that the average isn't,say, 1.83 or 2.07 instead. (I'm assuming it works out to a total Scrabble score of twice the number of white squares—no way am I going to check Peter and Peter's work!) The fill includes entries like JUDE LAW, BOHEMIA, and the X PRIZE for added oomph. There's also some weird stuff, like Italy's LA SPEZIA, an OBLIGER, and a HIERARCH, some of which makes this puzzle also feel supra-Wednesdayish. I haven't looked at the Thursday and Friday Sun puzzles yet, but if they're harder than this puzzle, oof! Are we in for a workout.


Michael Langwald's LA Times crossword honors the Lizard King (Jim Morrison), sort of, with a puzzle that includes a SALAMANDER ([Amphibian that can regenerate its limbs]). Morrison led THE DOORS, a [1960s-'70s group, and this puzzle's theme], and each of the other theme answers begins with a kind of door:
  • FIRE SALE is an [Event for unloading damaged goods], and a fire door is a good thing to keep closed.
  • DOUBLE WHAMMY, a lively phrase, is clued as [One bad thing after another]. Double doors offer double the doorknob fun.
  • REVOLVING CREDIT is a [Visa feature], and revolving doors are great fun (or terrifying) if you're a little kid.
  • SLIDING SCALE is a [Variable price structure], and sliding doors also enchant kids.
A few miscellaneous clues and answers:
  • COMSAT is a [Lockheed Martin global networking subsidiary].
  • Do we all know the "it's not an atom" trick already? [Splits to form a bond] clues ELOPES.
  • Dr. DRE is the [Dr. who created the G-funk sound]. This won't win him the Nobel Prize for medicine, but that's okay. Nobels probably don't boost record sales and music downloads.
Speaking of music downloads, I'm digging the iTunes "genius" option. Pick a song that matches your mood, click the genius button, and get a playlist of 25 compatible songs. The only down side is that it can be hard to do crosswords and type blog posts when danceable songs are playing or when you can't help singing along with an '80s Human League song.

Matt Gaffney's Onion A.V. Club crossword plays a quasi-cryptic game, with the cryptic crossword–style clues instructing us to put an actor's name inside another word to create a new made-up phrase. In each case, it's a 2-letter word getting sandwiched around the person's first name, with the last name left as is. Here's how it plays out:
  • ["The Breakfast Club" actress cuts through the nonsense to portray a chain of casinos?] cuts ALLY through B.S. to make BALLY'S SHEEDY.
  • ["The Incredible Hulk" actor, through music, takes on a fluffier role?] puts LOU in a CD for CLOUD FERRIGNO.
  • ["Mr. Deeds" actor gets inside yours truly to portray a Frenchwoman] combines ADAM and ME for MADAME SANDLER.
  • ["Gattaca" star moves to Charleston in order to play a poisonous plant?] drops UMA inside SC for SUMAC THURMAN.
If you enjoyed this theme (as I did) but haven't dared to venture into cryptics, you might want to give them a try. With 70 words and four corners packed with 7-letter answers, this puzzle also has a little of the challenge of a themeless crossword. Two clues that slowed me down: [The NBA's Zydrunas Ilgauskas, e.g.] needed a 3-letter answer. Hmm, LITHUANIAN is too long. I had *AV and of course there are two basketball teams whose nicknames fit that pattern, the CAVs (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Mavs (Dallas Mavericks). Then there's [Take in Tolkien, e.g.], which I was reading with "take" as a noun, and I was at a loss. The One RING? No, "take in" is a verb phrase, and the answer is READ.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "A Turn for the Worse," replaces key words in certain phrases with their opposites, all with negative connotations:
  • SOUR DREAMS are [What an evil person wishes others before bed?].
  • [What an evil - yet punctual - person tends to be?] is WRONG ON TIME.
  • DARK READING is [What an evil homeowner keeps in the bathroom?]. What, apartment renters don't have bathroom reading?
  • [How an evil athlete hopes to accomplish victory in a playoff series?] is via DIRTY SWEEP.
Solid theme, not too tough. Highlights in the non-thematic answers and clues:
  • I like to say BILBAO. It's a [Guggenheim locale] in Spain, with the crazy Frank Gehry architecture echoed in Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park. Who doesn't like playful architecture?
  • Two non-sleeping sorts of beds are included it clues here. [Leaf that may be used as a bed] for food is ENDIVE, and [Cleaned out the bed?] is WEEDED, as in weeding a flowerbed.
  • [Ready to go, already] is impatiently ANTSY.
  • MIND-MELD! It's the [Vulcan trick]. Will we see that in this year's Star Trek movie with the evil guy from Heroes playing Spock?
  • [Physical feature for Daryl Hall and Frank Sinatra] is not a MUSTACHE. That was John Oates, not Hall and definitely not Sinatra. The clean-shaven guys have BLUE EYES.
  • I'm pleased to report that [Larry the Cable Guy's autobiography] was the single hardest clue for me. It's GIT-R-DONE. That T crossed [Andrew W.K.'s "I Get ___"], WET.
  • WANG is an old [Computer company that might make the juvenile snicker]. I used to use a Wang daily on the job back around 1989. I think it had a green screen, as referenced in a recent NYT crossword.
  • I like this clue for ENDORSE because it had me picturing slowpokes on the running trail: [Get behind, on the trail].
  • [Corgan group that had a bad breakup] is ZWAN, which Billy Corgan formed after the breakup of the Smashing Pumpkins.
It's going to take me all day to do today's Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword. Why? Because instead of looking at the whole puzzle, I'm going the diagramless route and waiting for Brendan to parcel out the clues, one by one, in his Twitter feed. So far he's given the first four Across clues, and I think the grid's just got a standard crossword layout and symmetry, so I think the first six Acrosses are all 7-letter answers stacked beside one another at the top. I can't make fast progress because I won't get the 1- to 14-Down clues until after all the Across clues have been tweeted. I could cheat and Google 1 Across, [With 8-Across, "A Punk" rock band]—but where's the fun in that?

Updated again:

Commenter Squonk actually read Brendan's post today and informed me that the Twitter feed has clues for Friday's puzzle. (You can see the tweets in the sidebar of Brendan's blog if you don't want to sign up for Twitter.) I suspect this is the first instance of a crossword being provided in 160-character (max.) chunks. Anyway, today's puzzle is untweeted, just a regular puzzle, no diagramless option unless you cut out the grid yourself. The "Ow! Aargh!" title hints at the sound change in the theme entries. I don't know how to use the international phonetic alphabet to render the sound change, so I'll let the theme entries demonstrate it instead:
  • [False idol's change of location?] is BAAL MOVEMENT, playing on "bowel movement." The dictionary I checked says BAAL is pronounced more like "bay-il." I thought it rhymed with "doll" (pronounced with a Chicago accent, like Dahl). Brendan appears to rhyme it with "ball." I vote that we are all correct.
  • [Soiree stumble?] is PARTY FALL, changed from "party foul."
  • [Spikey leathermaker's tool?] is HORNED AWL (owl).
  • [Sonic Youth guitarist Moore's booty?] is a THURSTON HAUL. This one's my favorite, because when do we ever see a play on words using Gilligan's Island's Thurston Howell III? 
Juicy clues and answers:
  • [Like a pusher, maybe] is RUDE. No drug sales here, just shoving.
  • S&M is rendered as SANDM, or [Violent roleplaying, say]. The newspaper puzzles never cover this topic.
  • I thought St. was "street" and not "state," so [St. whose slogan is "Where America finds its voice"] threw me for a loop. Hey! Streets don't have slogans too often. It's the state of ALA., or Alabama. Why is that Alabama's slogan??
  • HEELS are clued as [Scalawags], and I love that word even more than rapscallions.
  • [Country "house," maybe?] is an IPOD, if you've got country music housed in it.
  • A specific and literal [Rare bird] is the NENE, a Hawaiian goose.
  • BROMANCE is a great new portmanteau. It's clued as a [Complicated non-sexual relationship between two men].
  • I only got [Their mascot is Handsome Dan] because there was a Rex remark about it, I think on one of Brendan's recent posts. The answer is ELIS, or Yale students.
  • DO LAPS is a fresh answer, clued as [Swim in a pool]. It's become a stand-alone phrase in its own right, not just an arbitrary combination of "do" + {random noun}.