January 20, 2009

Wednesday, 1/21

NYT 4:00
Sun 3:40
LAT 3:20
BEQ tba
Onion, Tausig — will be in Thursday post

More puzzle fun:

I enjoyed the inauguration earlier today. That benediction by Dr. Joseph Lowery, the part at the end with the rhymes? That was inspired by an old song, Big Bill Broonzy's "Black, Brown and White Blues." Lowery added in the "yellow" and red" parts for greater inclusiveness, I guess. But then it reminded me of a scene in that short-lived Fox sitcom with Jay Mohr, Action—Mohr's character, a venal movie producer, loses financing for his current project so he gathers the crew together and exhorts them to save money. The craft services table is going bare-bones. To save on the water bill, "If it's brown, flush it down. If it's yellow, let it mellow." And then a helicopter arrives to whisk the producer away to a resort, of course. I tell ya, rhymes can leave indelible marks in one's brain.

If you look at the online solving applet for the New York Times crossword, it may tell you that it took me longer than 4:00 to finish Fred Piscop's puzzle. I think I accidentally clicked on the "enlarge grid" button as soon as the clock started rolling, and then it took 38 seconds to get the grid back on screen. Oy! So I was already confuzzled when I began the puzzle, and then I forgot how to type, and then I mishmashed the first theme answer, which is supposed to be MONGREL EMPIRE, as MONGOL MONGREL or vice versa. The theme is "puns that replace a word or syllable with a word that means mixed-breed dog." Great, another Obama theme. (I kid! Why, my own kid is a mongrel.) Although CUR means an aggressive dog, not specifically a non-purebred canine. Can a cur have a pedigree, or decidedly not? The theme entries are:
  • MONGREL EMPIRE, clued as [Genghis Khan's non-pedigree domain?], plays on the Mongol Empire.
  • CUR CURRICULUM, clued as [Non-pedigree essential courses?], is based on core curriculum.
  • MUTTVILLE NINE, clued as [Casey's non-pedigree team?], plays on the Mudville nine from "Casey at the Bat."
So the puns are rather loose—one addition of an R sound, one change in vowel sound, one D-to-T sound change. I don't know if it's the theme or the applet (or both) that's making me cranky. I don't understand why those particular names are in [Words from Alphonse or Gaston]: AFTER YOU. Nobody named Alphonse or Gaston has ever said "after you" to me.

I have a second-hand nit to pick. ULTIMATE is clued as a [Frisbee game involving body contact]. My friend Seth G happens to play for the national champion masters ultimate team, and he wrote to me and Rex the moment he finished this puzzle to rebut the clue:
As defined by the national governing body for the sport, the Ultimate Players Association, the sport is a "Player defined and controlled non-contact team sport played with a flying disc on a playing surface with end zones in which all actions are governed by the 'Spirit of the Game.'" The Official Rules of Ultimate, 11th Edition, concurs: "Ultimate is a non-contact disc sport played by two teams of seven players."
Other clues:
  • [Elizabethan ballad player, maybe] is a LUTIST.
  • I initially thought [Polo of TV] was a bad clue for actress TERI, but it looks like her Meet the Parents/Meet the Fockers movie roles may well be outweighed by her TV roles. Why, she was just in a cheesy-sounding Hallmark Channel movie this month.
  • [Buggy place?] for a dune buggy is a DUNE. No insects required.
  • [Place for reeds] isn't just in certain musical instruments—they might also be found in a marsh or FEN.
  • [Burgers on the hoof] clues STEER. Aw, poor steer. They don't know what fate awaits them.
  • [Items in some illicit trade] are RELICS, as in looted antiquities.
  • REC is clued [Nonacademic school activities, informally]. Hmm, at what schools? This isn't ringing a bell. We had a Parks and Recreation Department in town. Day camp has rec leaders.
  • BANANA is a rich [Potassium source]. So is hummus. And nuts, chocolate, dairy, oranges, peaches, dried fruit, legumes of all sorts.
  • [Baby bottle?] clues VIAL because a vial is a wee little baby of a bottle. No jeroboam, that.

Scott Atkinson's Sun crossword, "Where Have All the Vowels Gone?," has four theme entries that contain SEVEN CONSONANTS in a row. I didn't know basketball coach BRANCH MCCRACKEN, adore The Office's DWIGHT SCHRUTE, have seen BTFSPLK in other crosswords but needed nearly all the crossings, and pieced together TWELFTH STREET despite misreading the clue as being about Pee Wee Herman. I liked the puzzle, I did, but have nothing else to say about it because I've got a lot of work to do today and an overarching drive to lie down and rest my eyes.

Don Gagliardo's LA Times crossword mimics VENDING MACHINES, which are [Places to find answers to starred clues]. The starred clues' answers are all things you might buy from a vending machine, and they're not only in symmetrical spots in the grid, they also run vertically to match their upright presentation in a vending machine. There's POP and GUM, COOKIES and PEANUTS, CRACKERS and a SANDWICH (though vending-machine sandwiches scare me), CANDY and CHIPS—all clued in ways that don't reference food at all. As a bonus, the [Horn & Hardart eateries] called AUTOMATS are also in the grid. Automats were vending-machine cafeterias back in the day, and what finer dining experience could there be?