January 06, 2009

Wednesday, 1/7

BEQ 4:55—one of 2009's coolest puzzles, and it's only the first week of the year
Sun 4:12
NYT 3:48
LAT 3:00
CS 2:58

(finished updating at 12:15 p.m.)

As soon as I had finished Wednesday's NYT and Sun crosswords, the phone rang. It was one of my oldest and dearest friends, so of course we spent the next hour and a half mostly talking about Facebook. And we're both over 40! What's wrong with us? (Answer: Nothing. Facebook is kinda fun.)

So this write-up is a good bit later than I'd planned, and I'm getting sleepy now. Let me try the less long-winded blogging approach.

The New York Times crossword comes from another newbie, debut constructor William Macreery. The theme entries are American towns that share their names with European cities:

  • DUBLIN, OHIO is the [Host city of golf's Memorial Tournament]. I don't know the tournament, don't know the burg.
  • MOSCOW, IDAHO is the [Hometown to college football's Vandals]. That's the University of Idaho there.
  • ATHENS, GEORGIA is another college town, [Where rock's R.E.M. was formed] and home to University of Georgia. There's also an Athens, Ohio, also a college town.
  • ROME, NEW YORK is clued with the fact, [Paul Revere founded a brass and copper works here]. Does this town have anything to do with Rome apples?
  • PARIS, MAINE is the [Birthplace of Vice President Hannibal Hamlin]. Virtual high five to anyone who jumped at PARIS, TEXAS, which is the name of a movie and a place I've heard of, unlike the Maine town.
I couldn't tell you why, with a bunch of the letters in place, I tried to answer [Lion's kingdom] with ANATOLIA. It's ANIMALIA—biology, not geography. Dang theme put geography in my head, I tell you. BAHRAINI, right next to ANIMALIA, is geographic—he or she is a [Native of one of the Gulf States]. (No, I didn't fall for ALABAMAN here.) Every crossword lover's favorite [Fish-eating raptor] is here, too: the ERNE. I think birdwatcher types might use the names of specific types of sea eagles and fish eagles in lieu of the word ERNE. (Martin H., if you're out there—do you still have that audio link with the erne's call?)

Coincidentally, the Sun crossword by Randall Hartman has much the same theme as another puzzle I blogged about in yesterday's post. The state is different—Hartman has "Georgia on My Mind," and GA is added to existing phrases to make up each theme entry. Two entries add GA to the beginning and two to the end:
  • [Trip to Libreville?] is GABON VOYAGE.
  • [Din when enjoying a cigarette?] is SMOKING GUNGA. Did you think din = noise rather than Din = part of Gunga Dun's nickname? So did I.
  • [LSD that's out of this world?] is GALACTIC ACID. I like how the "colorless syrupy organic acid formed in sour milk and produced in the muscle tissues" is transformed from boring biochemistry (sorry, scientists!) to druggy sci-fi.
  • [Boost actress Sonia?] clues PUSH UP BRAGA. When's the last time "push-up bra" was used as inspiration for a crossword answer? I do not know.
Plenty of good fill—some X's and Z's, a RUSTY NAIL cocktail with scotch and Drambuie, somebody IN A LATHER. Pop culture abounds in this puzzle—there's the band STYX, rocker Sammy HAGAR, R&B singer NE-YO, SMURF, Hanson, an MTV show, a new 90210 character, the Village People's "YMCA," and more.


Once again, the morning finds me disinclined to do crosswords or write about them.

Jack McInturff's LA Times crossword explains its theme in 70-Across: MATE, or [It can follow the last word of this puzzle's five longest answers]. (Is it my imagination or does this type of theme appear more often in the LA Times and CrosSynergy puzzles than in the NYT?) At first, I thought only the three longest answers were theme entries, with the first two starting with the vaguely synonymous SECOND and MINOR LEAGUE. Here's the quintet of answers in the theme:
  • SECOND-CLASS means [Inferior], and classmate ties it to 70-Across.
  • ELBOW ROOM is [Space to maneuver]. If only there were elbowmates—people whose elbows are very much like your own? The people sitting on either side of you at the movies or on a plane? (Roommate is the tie-in, of course.)
  • The [Carolina Mudcats, e.g.] are a MINOR LEAGUE TEAM.
  • [Takeover attempt] is a POWER PLAY. I almost put in POWER GRAB, but I can't say what a "grabmate" might be.
  • [Hired consultant, e.g.] is OUTSIDE HELP.
And now, some random remarks on the fill: TELECAST is clued as [Air on tubes]. I wonder what percentage of TVs in current use have picture tubes. I think we'll still anachronistically call TV "the tube" when we've all got flat-screen TVs. This puzzle's got three 4-letter abbreviations starting with N: [Market initials] are the NYSE, or New York Stock Exchange. The National Labor Relations Board or NLRB is a [Union-mgmt. dispute watchdog]. And the NTSB is the [Accident-investigating org.] called the National Transportation Safety Board. One of our lesser 4-letter European rivers pops up here; the ORNE is a [River to the English Channel]. I'm not clear on who [Chic Johnson's vaudeville partner] OLE OLSEN is, but I've heard the name. There are a handful of technical terms floating around here, too: USENET is an [Online newsgroup system], and I have no idea if it's still in use. COBOL was an [Early computer language], the sort my dad knew. ASCII is clued as a [High-tech code acronym].

Yes, it's taking me an hour to summon up the will to blog each puzzle this morning. (Maybe I should read that article about procrastination I've been putting off reading?) Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle is called "Penny Pincher Arcade" and that title could, if it were a few letters shorter, be a fourth theme entry in this crossword. Each one takes a phrase and changes the first word to a longer word that starts with it and is synonymous with "penny pincher" or "miser":
  • [Miserly hug?] is a TIGHTWAD SQUEEZE.
  • [Miserly magic trick?] is a CHEAPSKATE TRICK. This one makes me think of lame skateboard tricks: "Watch me travel in a straight line without falling off!" That would be a cheap skate trick, all right.
  • [Miserly pool activity?] is SKINFLINT DIVING. It shouldn't be in a pool, it should be in the sea. And the miserly scuba diver who skimps on equipment finds herself hypothermic without a wetsuit and woefully short on oxygen given the leaky tank.
The [Cereal aisle selection] KIX gets precious little play in crosswords (only Quisp can rival it for high Scrabble value), but it's a lovely cereal. One of the biggest mysteries in the cereal aisle is why Kix costs so much. A small 12-ounce box is invariably over four bucks. What's up with that?

Rex Parker and I still need to compile our Oryx Awards for 2008's best crosswords, but already I've got a puzzle to add to my folder of 2009 nominees: Brendan Emmett Quigley's puzzle for today, "Spoiler Alerts!" Brendan plays around with cross-referencing in an innovative way—four theme entries' clues say [SPOILER ALERT!] and cross-reference answers somewhere else in the puzzle. Those x-refs are situated above, below, between, or after other answers that are then positionally referenced by the long theme answers. Clear as mud, right? Let me explain:
  • 17-Across is OVERRATED and points to 31-Across. That answer is AFIRE, but that's irrelevant—what counts is that this word sits OVER an answer that means RATED, SIZED UP at 37-Across.
  • 26-Across is BETWEEN JOBS. Its partner is 68-Across, ISR, which is parked between PILOT on its left and MAYOR to the right—two jobs.
  • 46-Across is UNDERGROUND. Its playmate is 22-Across, AT COST, which is under EARTH.
  • 62-Across is AFTERMATH, and 24-Across, ZOO, is the answer that follows TRIG ([Sine language?]), a branch of math.
I have never seen a puzzle quite like this one, and I love the way the theme plays out. Including all the various parts of this theme contraption, the theme runs 83 squares. Brendan still manages to include interesting fill (cushioned with old standbys like ELOI, BAHT, ADZE, and OMOO), like RENE RUSSO, BLACKJACK, JAMBA Juice, and football's legendary ICE BOWL.