February 12, 2009

Friday, 2/13

Sun 6:25
BEQ 5:33
LAT 5:22
NYT 4:47
CHE 4:27
WSJ 8:18

Ooh, spooky! Friday the 13th! Try not to step on any black cats in sidewalk cracks beneath ladders or open any umbrellas indoors and thereby crack a mirror.

Doug Peterson's New York Times crossword was a ton of fun. The clues weren't particularly tricky, but there's a slew of great fill, much of it allied with popular culture. Some of it isn't pop culture, but could be—for example, [Activity involving a needle] is the completely unfun SPINAL TAP, but for many in my generation, the hilarious mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap is what comes to mind before painful medical procedure.

I've got to put my kid to bed (no school today or tomorrow—usually he's asleep before puzzle time), so there's only time to mention a handful of entries and post the grid for now. A few favorite answers:

  • ZIEGFELD FOLLIES, or [Big draw of early Broadway], meets ZIMBABWE, clued with [Victoria Falls forms part of its border].
  • VOODOO DOLL is [One getting pinned].
  • The ANDROMEDA GALAXY is the [Locale of Krypton in the Superman saga], and it also figures into Men in Black, I think.
  • ["The Simpsons" bully] is named NELSON. "HA ha!" is his trademark mocking laugh, which he inherited from his mother.
  • EPISODE I is a [Series kickoff], as in the Star Wars movies. See also EWOK, a [Furry sci-fi creature] from said series.
  • I thought [Useful piece of code] would be a Morse code DIT or DAH, but luckily it's an APP (computer application).
  • BOOTSTRAPS are a [Self-starter's equipment?].
  • AL KALINE is the [1955 A.L. batting champ] with the insane name. The clue could have harked back to chemistry class and the adjective alkaline, but it's more fun to have the ballplayer with the nutty name.
  • Fruit! No oranges in the grid, but we do have POMELO ([Thick-skinned fruit]), APPLE ([Flavor of Calvados brandy]), and GRAPES ([Balsamic vinegar source]).
That's it for now—if I don't conk out, more later on this terrific Friday puzzle.


Okay, the "more later" didn't happen last night because Flight of th Conchords and The Office did. Oh, well.

In past years, Trip Payne's "Wacky Weekend Warrior" puzzles have run in the Sun close to April Fool's Day, and this year with the Sun crossword setting at the end of February, I figured we wouldn't have another. But yay! Here it is. With a word count of 52 and 22 black squares, it looks like the fearsomest themeless ever, but it isn't because the majority of the answers would not be valid in a standard crossword. The whole thing was fun (with the exception of ALOE, PERK, ANGIE, SNEAKS, HECK, and EATME). My favorite wacky answers: LOVE, LEVI, or [How clothier Strauss ended his letters]; GNOME PICKER, or [Garden Ornaments "R" Us customer, sometimes]; MILK AND RUM, or [What you might expect in a mixed drink called a White Jamaican]; SARAH PALINDROME, or [Running mate of Nia "C.C." McCain?]; and POPE ALAN, or [Economist Greenspan, after succeeding Benedict].

Dan Naddor's LA Times puzzle has a whopping seven theme entries in which one letter in a phrase is doubled, thereby changing the meaning:
  • [Tightwad with emotional problems?] is a SCARRED STIFF. One dictionary I checked doesn't list a noun counterpart for the "stiff someone with the bill" verb form—just the bore and the cadaver. Cadavers with scars would be off-putting in the morning crossword, but the unfun stiff who casts a pall on the party could've worked here.
  • [Rodeo bling?] is a CORRAL NECKLACE. I'm not sure that "coral necklace" is truly a cohesive phrase rather than just being "[random modifier] necklace."
  • [Sound of Deborah falling?] is KERR-PLOP. This one I like.
  • [Saddle defect?] is STIRRUP TROUBLE, with the added R joining two words into one. This is, I think, the best of the theme entries.
  • [Flood in an owned apartment?] is CONDO TORRENT ("condo to rent"). In the U.S., I believe "for rent" is much commoner than "to rent" (and don't get me started on crosswords' favorite version, TO LET).
  • [Support for ballet practice?] is a BARRE FOOT.
  • [Stun a Beatle?] is ROCK STARR. I like this one too.
The overall sprawl of the theme entries throughout this 16x15 grid is facilitated by a few less-familiar answers. LOTI is ["An Iceland Fisherman" author Pierre]. LALO is the ["Symphonie espagnole" composer], and he's just one of five -O men in this puzzle. He's joined by Don PARDO, the [1960s-'70s "Jeopardy!" announcer]; PAOLO, the [16th century painter Veronese]; and ERNO, or [Hungarian-born architect Goldfinger] rather than cube-maker Rubik. [Jazz singer Diana] KRALL is married to Elvis Costello. I flubbed [Has ___ of confidence] by going with parliamentary A VOTE rather than the vaguer AN AIR.

The theme in Liz Gorski's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Writing Frugalista," leaves me wondering what I'm missing. Frugalista is a new word for a fashionista who picks things up on the cheap. The eight theme entries are clued IN A WORD (83-Across)—each answer is a multi-word phrase with a one-word clue with equivalent meaning. For example, the [Bulk] of something is THE LION'S SHARE, [Everything] is THE WHOLE NINE YARDS, and something that's [Obvious] is A NO-BRAINER. I don't get what binds these eight phrases together, because the English language has a wealth of idiomatic phrases that can mean the same thing as a single word. For example, a "ballpark figure" is an estimate, "barrel of laughs" could be clued as a riot, and "barking up the wrong tree" means wrong (and those are just from the beginning of this list of idioms starting with B). What am I missing here, people? And now, a pop quiz: What do you call a crossword in which every single clue consists of a single word? Answer: Stan Newman's dream Newsday "Saturday Stumper."

Stephen Berry's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Union Man," marks Abraham Lincoln's birthday with a quote theme: "DO I NOT DESTROY / MY ENEMIES / WHEN I MAKE / THEM MY FRIENDS?" This concept does not hold true on Facebook, I don't think, but its peaceable message is always welcome. Favorite word in the fill: YAWPS, or [Whitmanesque shouts] in yodeling (I think). I know the Kim CARNES song "Bette Davis Eyes" but not that she was [Former New Christy Minstrels member Kim]. The quote is intersected by plenty of long Down answers, including ONLY CHILD clued as a [Single issue?], MEANDERED clued as the past-tense verb [Wound] (which could also be a present-tense verb that relates to the noun when pronounced differently), and the IMPALEMENT that may be a [Vampire film's denouement, perhaps]. Favorite clue: [Hangman's revelation] for the WORD you're trying to guess in a game of hangman; no dreary executioner here.

Brendan Emmett Quigley's crossword today is based on the popular Facebook meme, "25 Random Things About Me." His list appears in the clues, meaning there are 25 theme entries. I did not check my arithmetic, but I think this puzzle has got about 119 theme squares and just 68 white squares that aren't part of a theme entry. I highlighted all the theme entries in my answer grid and see that no, the shorter theme entries do not adhere to a symmetrical layout. But the grid's black-square pattern is still symmetrical, so I say we give Brendan the record (with a partial asterisk) for most theme squares. The 25 Random Things About BEQ are plausible, too—["14. All six members of my current band are ___"] clues TYPERS , and the band is called Boston Typewriter Orchestra. He's a Bostonian, so TOM BRADY is a believable favorite football player. He does have ONION and NYT crosswords, and I think I saw a photo on Facebook of Brendan as Sherlock HOLMES.

Mind you, including 25 theme entries in a daily-sized puzzle will necessitate the inclusion of some ooky stuff. ARECA, the [Betel nut tree], is old-school crossword fill. UMTATA, the [South African town that was Nelson Mandela's birthplace], is probably unfamiliar to 99%+ of Americans. [Glittering, like a diamond] clues GEMMY (which I've never seen before but it's legit). And the [Naut. direction] STBD is a not-so-familiar (but in-the-dictionary) abbreviation for "starboard. It's not as if these are the total-amateur-junk answers like, say, OLLYW clued as H___ood. So it's all good.

A "Show Us What You've Got" challenge for crossword constructors: I have never tried to include 25 things that are part of my history and preferences in a crossword grid, but I reckon it's well-nigh impossible. There may be no money in it, but I challenge any other constructors to match this feat with their own "25 Random Things About Me" crossword. C'mon, who's game? You make it and then post it online (it's free and simple to do so at the Crossword Fiend forum), and I'll link to it.