February 19, 2009

Friday, 2/20

WSJ 6:45
LAT 6:20
NYT 6:17
Sun 6:00
CHE 5:20
BEQ 5:02

(post updated at 5:22 p.m. Friday)

My Friday-morning blogging time will be cut short by a date with a Tribune photographer. Features writer Patrick Reardon interviewed me Thursday for an article to run sometime next week—he had an odd assortment of questions about crosswords, not the standard sorts of questions I've been asked before. Here's hoping that he can extract some semi-coherent quotes from my ramblings. The Vegas bookmakers are now taking bets on whether the headline or first paragraph will include the clichéd "What's a seven-letter word for..." bit.

Paula Gamache's New York Times crossword is classic Gamache: a bunch of 10- and 11-letter answers stacked together, smooth fill featuring plenty of interesting words and phrases, and a Saturday-puzzle vibe. Ahhh. Who doesn't love a Gamache?Here's the stuff that delighted me:

  • WEASEL WORDS are [Aids in artful deception].
  • [Correctly positioned] means nothing more than RIGHT SIDE UP. Did you want to try ___ED UP as I did?
  • ORS, or operating rooms, are places [Where people wear gowns, for short].
  • A coffee KLATCH is a [Gabfest]. It can also be spelled coffee klatsch or kaffeeklatsch. From the German for "coffee gossip"; English lacked an equivalent and had to borrow from the Germans.
  • To [Sink] something is to SCUTTLE it.
  • [One may be backed up] clues a SINGER, who may have backup singers.
  • CORTEX is the brain's [Center of learning]. Wow, I was thinking of some sort of school or classroom.
  • "KISS MY GRITS!" is what Mel's Diner waitress Flo said on Alice. It's clued as a [1970s-'80s put-down/catchphrase]. You can't get a much livelier entry than this.
  • Speaking of lively and somewhat retro sass, there's also L-SEVEN, or [Square, in 1950s slang, indicated visually by a two-hand gesture]. My gang in junior high around 1979 used this, too.
  • Paula heads into the great outdoors with a DUCK CALL ([Decoy accompanier]) and SPELUNK (the verb [Cave]).
  • Aw, a SCOTTIE DOG—[Pet with short legs and a hard coat, informally].
  • The APGAR SCORE is a [Measure of a newborn's health, named for its developer], Virginia Apgar. There's a mnemonic (Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, Respiration) that probably makes many a med student think Apgar is an acronym.
Now, it's not all fun and games. This puzzle also has a bunch of gnarly answers whose clues don't make things easy:
  • Josephine TEY is ["The Daughter of Time" novelist]. Burl (I suspect) IVES was the [Big Daddy player on 1950s Broadway].
  • The PHIAL of Galadriel was a gift to Frodo Baggins in one of the Lord of the Rings books.
  • [Year of the last known Roman gladiator competition] was CDIV, or 404.
  • [2003 memoir of a TV executive] is ROONE, by Roone Arledge.
  • [Loch ___, on the River Shannon] is REE. I was thinking it might be RAE or REA, but no.
  • [Recyclable] is a noun, not just an adjective. The answer's ALUMINUM CAN.
  • [Extension of the terms of a marine insurance policy] is SHORE COVER. I'm not a boater, so this was a phrase of mystery to me.
  • [Juniper product] isn't just gin, it's also a CONE from this evergreen.
  • [One of Judaism's four matriarchs] is REBEKAH. Spelling it REBECCA will muck up those crossings, all right. (Been there, done that.)
  • SHAYNE is the answer to [Private detective Mike of Brett Halliday novels]. I have the vaguest sense of seeing this in another crossword and also not knowing it then.
  • [___ Rivera, Calif.] clues PICO. Not one of your more common California town-name words, is it?
  • Legalese Latin! We've got SUA [___ sponte (of its own accord, at law]. I don't recall seeing this one before.

Jeremy Horwitz constructed Oscar Week's final Sun crossword, "Oscar-Winning Roles." The theme is a tough one: the names of the fictional Oscar winners who have populated various movies. I've only seen one of the four movies in question, so I was working the hell out of the crossings here. The Bodyguard's fictional Oscar winner was named RACHEL / MARRON. Is that Whitney Houston's character? The internet says yes. I had no clue. I mean, there was a long clue for it, but it meant nothing to me because I never saw the movie. TUGG SPEEDMAN is from Tropic Thunder. Is that Robert Downey Jr.'s character? No, it's Ben Stiller. True story from commenter "chefwen" over at the Rex Parker blog the other day: Her dog ran away and the family that picked him up was Ben Stiller's. Her dog spent a night in the bed belonging to Stiller and spouse Christine Taylor. VICKI LESTER was a character in A Star Is Born, the new stage name of Judy Garland's character Esther Blodgett; never saw the movie, but Wikipedia filled me in. I liked In & Out but couldn't remember the name of Matt Dillon's actor-character without a bunch of crossings; it's CAMERON DRAKE.

My favorite clues and answers:
  • Two crazy geography clues are [Jujuy is a prov. in it] for ARG. (Argentina) and [Where the pa'anga is spent] for TONGA. One alone would be iffy, but the two together please me. Oh, plus there's SSE clued with [Dir. from Timbuktu to Ouagadougou], and one can scarcely find a more mellifluous city name than that last one.
  • [Decreasing?] is IRONING, as in removing the creases from.
  • DIGRESS gets a fill-in-the-blank, ["...but I ___"].
  • BRISTLE is clued [Get angry and defensive]. My eye added an S to the "Get" so I tried BRIDLES. Completely separate etymologies, but the two bri_le words can mean the same thing.
Janet Bender's Wall Street Journal crossword is yet another in the series of WSJ puzzles that are a good bit easier than a typical Sunday NYT. The "C Plus" theme is better than average (har!), with a C getting added to various phrases to give them new meanings. My favorite theme answers are the ones that took the C at the beginning of the first word. Does that mean those entries were more successful than the ones with a C added to a subsequent word, or just that those are the ones that grabbed me? Here they are:
  • CORAL HYGIENE might be [Healthy maintenance for reefs?].
  • CASH WEDNESDAY is the [Time for midweek ATM withdrawals?]. I think I could get used to Cash Wednesday if it meant free money for me.
  • The [Message for archaeologists to decipher?] is CODE ON A GRECIAN URN. Isn't that a great little play on words?
In the non-theme fill, we get a couple two-part names that seldom show up in the grid in their entirety: Actress TYNE DALY is a [Winner of six Emmys and a Tony], and the ENOLA GAY was a [Famous B-29]. Or maybe that should be [Infamous B-29]. There's a shiny new clue for ERIC: [Attorney General Holder]. I like that he's stirring things up already, and not because there's a topless statue in the building. We can only hope that he, too, will eventually write and perform songs.

Samuel Donaldson's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Seeing Stars," has a theme that is of little help when solving. Four of the longest answers contain CONSTELLATIONS in their midst. The [Psychological term for a stepmother's sexual attraction to her stepson] is the PHAEDRA COMPLEX, with Draco hiding inside it. The professional's HOURLY RATE splits Lyra between its two words. Leo is prowling inside LITTLE ONE, or [Toddler]. And there's some constellation within NATIVE LAND. I started Googling my way to the stars—Tivel constellation, no. Tivela constellation, no, but Google asks if I meant Vela, so that's it. Physics and astronomy fans, this puzzle's for you. Law-school grads, this clue's for you: [Order of the ___ (honor society for law-school grads)] is COIF. People who've taken a stats class, this one's for you: [Way to determine if a sample is indicative of the norm] is the T TEST. College admissions staff, this one's for you: [___ code (identifier on a SAT score report)] is CEEB.


The theme in Robert Doll's LA Times puzzle confused me for the longest time. The theme answers all run in the Down direction, and their clues all include the word "literally." Eventually I saw that the answers were fractured and sometimes reordered phrases with missing prepositions—those prepositions have been replaced by moving words around. We had a similar theme in a Merl Reagle Sunday puzzle last year, and I can't help thinking that a title for the puzzle might help reveal the theme. Without further ado, here's how Doll's theme works:
  • [Can't take the heat, literally] means "crumble under pressure" figuratively. Put the word "crumble" under the word "pressure" in PRESSURE CRUMBLE and it's sort of a picture rebus representation of the phrase.
  • [Avoid arguments, literally] means "stay above the fray," so STAY THE FRAY has "stay" above "the fray."
  • [Plays dirty, literally] is "hits below the belt," so the answer is THE BELT HITS.
  • [Be clumsy, literally] is to "trip over your own feet," so here it becomes TRIP YOUR OWN FEET.
Plenty of tough clues make it that much harder to piece together the theme entries if you haven't figured out how they work. Among the tougher ones are these:
  • [Grounation Day celebrant] is RASTA.
  • [Fearless Leader underling] is NATASHA from Rocky and Bullwinkle. Speaking of a moose, MR. MOOSE apparently was a ["Captain Kangaroo" regular], though I remember only Mr. Green Jeans.
  • [Albemarle Sound, for example] is a LAGOON.
  • ["The Eyes of ___": 2005 PBS science show] must have starred Bill NYE. My first guess was NYU because the crosser, ["Wheel of Fortune" buy], could have ended with any of the five vowels.
  • [Wrapper's pair] is SCISSORS, as in a person who is wrapping presents.
  • [Prank instigators] are DARES (not the people who issue the dares).
  • BASIN is clued as [Great ___: arid Western region].
  • [Full of dirt?] means NEWSY, when dirt = gossip, the latest news.
  • [Lifts in a gym?] clues PUMPS, as in "pumps iron." I don't think this clue really works.
  • [Bach's cello suites, e.g.] are SOLI.
Today's Brendan Emmett Quigley crossword is a pun puzzle called "Heathens." The theme entries are SQUARE PAGAN, / A ROUND HOLE (punning on "square peg in a round hole"), NO REST FOR / THE WICCAN ("no rest for the wicked"), and WITCH WAY IS UP ("Which way is up?"). I give this theme a solid "meh" today because I've been a garden-variety heathen my whole life, with no affinity for the pagan/wicca/druid bent. I know the dictionary definition for "heathen" includes polytheistic pagans as well as folks who belong to no religion, but still. Favorite answers: ONSTAR, the [Safety device for GM vehicles]; THE WIRE, that [TV series whose theme was "Way Down in the Hole"], a show that everyone still raves about but that I've never seen; REYNARD the [Fox of fables], because Reynard is so close to Reynaldo; and a TOWNIE who is a [Nonuniversity type]. Tougher nails: QIN is the [Dynasty during which much of the Great Wall of China was built]; [Actress Tilly of "The Good Earth"] clues LOSCH; COZ is a [Family relation, for short], meaning "cousin"; and beneath COZ is KAZ, or [Middle fielder Matsui], a name I know only from a Byron Walden crossword (in which KAZMATSUI was stacked on or under its near twin, HAZMATSUIT).