February 20, 2009

Saturday, 2/21

NYT 6:24
LAT 5:16
Newsday 5:06

Mike Nothnagel and Byron Walden are two of my favorite themeless constructors. They have similar sensibilities about the kinds of answers they like to wrestle into a grid, so it's natural that they'd pair up on this New York Times crossword. They're both mathematically inclined, so the minitheme of two related 15-letter answers makes sense:

  • A [Rectangular array that's identical when its rows and columns are transposed, as this puzzle's grid] is a SYMMETRIC MATRIX.
  • REFLECTED IMAGES are clued with [They may be seen on a lake's surface].
I was just telling my kid that crosswords have a rotational symmetry rather than the left-right flip kind of symmetry mentioned on his math worksheet. And now this puzzle proves me wrong by having its symmetry be the reflected-images variety, with the line of symmetry running along the diagonal from upper left to lower right. I don't believe I've ever seen a crossword with this kind of arrangement.

And wow, look at the density of Saturday-friendly answers that would be Wednesday-hostile. Most of the Across answers aren't so bad (even if their clues may be tricky), but the Downs are a minefield:
  • [Methyl orange or Congo red] is an AZO DYE.
  • ZULEMA is a [Woman's name meaning "peace"]. Five years ago, this would have seemed frightfully obscure to me, but now I know a delightful woman named Zulema—a reader of this blog, in fact. Hi, Zulema! Nice to see you in the puzzle.
  • THE VIPS is a [1963 Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton drama].
  • The [Title woman of a story from James Joyce's "Dubliners"] is EVELINE.
  • REDOXES are [Electron-transferring reactions, briefly].
  • One kind of [Specialty cookware item] is a CREPE PAN. I don't own one, but I did have one of those WOKS, or [Round-bottomed vessels]. 
  • A [Trough] might be called a FEEDBIN. Not a word in my regular vocabulary, but readily inferrable.
  • NO-PEST is a [Brand of insecticide strips] I've never heard of.
  • [Believer in al-Hakim as the embodiment of God] is a DRUSE.
  • ERIE is familiar enough, but the clue [Home of Presque Isle Downs racetrack] suggests that's a racetrack we might have heard of. Anyone?
Twistiest clues:
  • [Item with clear face value?] is a RAZOR that can clear whiskers off a face.
  • [One who may have connections] is an air TRAVELER.
  • ["Haw"], to a horse, means GO LEFT. Not to be confused with a mocking "Haw, haw!" laugh.
  • [Kind of paper], *AX...must be WAX, right? Nope, it's FAX.
  • [Revealed the end to?] is MOONED. Anyone else go for OMENED there?
  • [Courtside seats?] are the JURY BOX in a courtroom.
  • [Turkey setting] is ASIA MINOR and not the Thanksgiving table.
Tough clues for familiar answers:
  • [Grp. with the debut single "10538 Overture"] is ELO.
  • [A choli is worn under it] clues a SARI.
  • Jean ARP is the ["Collage With Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance" artist]. You will note that this title doesn't describe this crossword.
  • It was Edgar Allan POE [Who wrote "I dwelt alone / In a world of moan, / And my soul was a stagnant tide"].
  • [Some are heaping: Abbr.] clues TSPS., or teaspoons.
  • ACETONE is the usual active ingredient in nail polish remover, but the clue [Polish stripper] doesn't exactly make it clear that this is what we're after here.
  • GOES TO is a basic two-word verb phrase. [Doesn't skip] could indeed mean "does go to," but I interpreted it as "doesn't skip a step," or GETS TO. Whoops. That had me thinking that [Some early "astronauts"] were ANTS instead of APES.
Other favorite things not already mentioned:
  • MR. SHOW was a [1990s HBO sketch comedy series]. David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, not subject to broadcast network censors.
  • XEROXES are [Some dupes], as in duplicates. Who doesn't like a double-X crossword answer?
  • [Dinosaur, so to speak] is a RELIC. As in a Windows 95 computer would be a relic, a dinosaur from an earlier age.

Barry Silk's LA Times crossword has a single "ick" answer (that'd be SWEAT STAIN, or [Workout consequence]) and a whole bunch of great ones:
  • CRAIGSLIST is an [Alternative to newspaper classifieds].
  • COSTCO is a [BJ's competitor]. The clue means absolutely nothing to me—have not seen a BJ's store—but COSTCO is good 'n' fresh.
  • LIFE JACKET is a [Vest sometimes worn with a suit] of various kinds. Probably not a JUMPSUIT, which is clued as a [Bailout cover-up?], though I suspect far more jumpsuits are worn by mechanics than by people jumping out of airplanes.
  • ZIP CODE is a [1963 system based on a 1944 Robert Moon proposal]. Clever guy.
  • [Jason Bourne, e.g.] is an ACTION HERO.
  • DO NOT ENTER is a common [Warning sign].
  • HORSE SENSE is [Savvy].
Here are my favorite clues:
  • [Home wreckers] are TERMITES.
  • [Subject of the 2007 Mitchell Report] is STEROIDS in baseball. I initially had PORES instead of SORES (ick!) as [Dermatology issues], so I was pondering what PTEROIDS might be.
  • [Some tennis players] are GRUNTERS. I believe only the female grunters come in for criticism.
  • ["C'mon...please?"] clues "CAN'T I?"
  • [Bills] are CASH. See also TENS, which are clued as [Knockouts, so to speak].
Crosswordese Maine college town Orono gets promoted to the big time with ORONO, MAINE, clued with [It's 42 miles NNW of Bar Harbor]. The [Mythical Hun king] is ATLI, and Tyler Hinman and I once named our trivia team after him. You know how the fish mahi mahi often shows up halfway in crosswords, clued as half a fish? Now MAHI is given as a complete entity: [Literally, "strong" in Hawaiian].

Today, the Newsday "Saturday Stumper" (solution here) seemed a little easier than the day's other themeless puzzles. It wasn't dull, though—there were a few clunky words (-ER ones) and boring ones (TERN, or [Skimmer relative]; ESSE, or [They: It.]), but a bunch of terrific answers too:
  • UBERMENSCH is a [Nietzsche concept].
  • EYEBROW TWEEZERS are a [Shaping tool].
  • A [Ball of fire] is a DYNAMO.
  • DR. MOREAU is an H.G. [Wells title character]. I would not wish to vacation on his island.
  • TIME ZONE gets a trivia clue that, after the fact, I remember learning last summer: [China has only one, surprisingly]. The Olympic events that happened at 9 a.m. in Beijing were taking place before sunrise in the country's west.
  • [Kind of copy] is a MIRROR IMAGE. (See the NYT crossword grid.)
There were weird clues for MARION—the [Surprise-attack master of the Revolution], Francis MARION, is no one I'd ever heard of—and CRINGER ([Mouse, at times]). The CRINGER is accompanied by other -ER answers: STRUTTERS ([Peacocks, e.g.]), RIDGIER ([Comparatively corrugated]), ABLER ([Less error-prone]), VEXER ([Irritant]), and SKATERS ([They work with figures]).

Nobody really likes a clever clue for a danged marble-of-crosswordese, do they? TAW is clued as [Sharp shooter]. Much better is this fresh clue for OREO: [One of a half-trillion sold since 1912].

The "name the person for the title/quote" clues were tough. James AGEE is the ["Permit Me Voyage" poet]. Essayist ELIA is the ["Man is a gaming animal" writer]. Robert BORK is ["The Antitrust Paradox" author]. The ["A Bridge Too Far" author] is Cornelius RYAN; between this one and MARION, that's about two military-history answers too many for my taste. Tea LEONI is the ["Ghost Town" actress] from that Ricky Gervais movie that nobody saw last fall.