February 27, 2009

Saturday, 2/28

Newsday 23:08
NYT 9:58
LAT 6:01

frank longo's new york times crossword is a cranium-crusher of exactly the type you would expect from the author of cranium-crushing crosswords. the word count is only 66, and 16 of those are 8+ letters. my favorites were:

  • sir ALEC GUINNESS is clued as the [Oscar winner for "The Bridge on the River Kwai"]. sure, he's better known as obi wan, but this is still pretty famous. i was almost surprised i knew this.
  • ELIZABETH I is getting a lot of crossword play this week, isn't she? today's clue is [First holder of the title Supreme Governor of the Church of England], which got me thinking about henry VIII even though i already had the initial E.
  • AXIS OF EVIL is probably the marquee answer, and it's clued as the [Epithet coined for the 2002 State of the Union address].
  • [Summer cooler] for once isn't the (lame non-word) ADE; instead, it's delicious ITALIAN ICE.
  • [Enter la-la land] is a great clue for SPACE OUT. there's a mild etymological paradox here: are you going in or out? i'd say out, which makes la-la land a very strange place: it's where you enter when you check out of everywhere else.

i actually solved most of the puzzle pretty quickly (it really helps when i can get 1a), but the SE region of the puzzle did me in. everything to the east of BAFTA was blank for a while, because i didn't know:

  • [Group with the 1967 #2 hit "Georgy Girl"] is the SEEKERS. ouch. a 42-year old song and it wasn't even #1? i didn't stand a chance, although i did guess that it ended with S. [Wronski feint performers] would have been more up my alley.
  • never heard of english poet STEVIE smith.
  • [Butcherbird or woodchat] was not calling SHRIKE to mind. yikes.
  • i did eventually guess that [Like supermarkets] was AISLED, off the A from ELLA (which turned out to be wrong, but the A was right).

several anatomical terms are growing in this grid: a TRUE RIB; [Alveoli, e.g.], or AIR CELLS; DIGESTIVE tracts; and the ILIUM. there were also a bunch of little foreign words: ESSA is italian for "she," SCENA is an [Elaborate solo vocal composition], and [Heads of Italy] are CAPI. GAI is french for "happy," and is an unpleasant reminder of the time TOUJOURS GAI prevented me from finishing a saturday NYT about a year ago. (i didn't keep track of constructors at the time, but why am i not surprised to go back and find that it was brad wilber?) and AMO gets a very erudite clue: [Catullus's "Odi et ___"], which means "i hate and i love."

favorite clue: [It might be kicked after being picked up] is a HABIT.

updated 3:00 pm:

stan newman's Newsday Saturday Stumper was all very gettable except for the two longest entries, one of which i felt was clued unfairly, and one of which was a fictional character i'd neeeeeever heard of. CAUSTICALLY is an adverb, but [Emulating Mencken] seems not to be. how does everybody else feel about this? i don't think it passes the substitution test. and the [Oscar-nominated role of '50] is apparently ELWOOD P. DOWD. um... yeah. google tells me this is jimmy stewart's role from harvey, but even if the clue had been [Jimmy Stewart's role from "Harvey"] i would have needed every single crossing. working out the central part of this grid took me about the last 10 minutes of the 23 i spent on this puzzle. and although 23 minutes is a pretty typical time for me on the stumper, i felt i was doing pretty well until i hit an absolute wall in the OOH/DOE area. part of the problem was SPRAINS for [Stretches, in a way] instead of SPRAWLS, which led me to guess that the mystery name might be ELIOTT P. DOWD. then i tried ELINOR P. DOWD, but CREDN looked much wronger than CREDO.

stuff i liked:

  • [Seer's certification] is EYE TEST, not some sort of tarot license.
  • [Who's first] isn't an abbott & costello reference, nor is it ADAM or some such. it's roger DALTREY, lead singer of the who.
  • [Where Napoleon was crowned] is a historical fact that i just plain should have remembered. it's NOTRE DAME (and not the one in south bend).

i quailed a little when i opened up today's LA Times crossword and saw brad wilber's name in the byline. but this turned out to be a very smooth and enjoyable saturday solve, with none of the pull-your-hair-out moments i associate (fairly or un-) with brad's puzzles. the highlights:

  • ["The Purple Rose of Cairo" premise] is a FILM WITHIN A FILM. i don't know that movie, but this is a cool answer.
  • crossing it in the puzzle's center is SCRATCH PLAYER, or a [Regular par shooter] in golf.
  • circuits get yet more play in the LAT, with OHM'S LAW at 1a, clued as the deceptive [Resistance statement].
  • another statement demonstrating some resistance is "WHAT OF IT?," a [Defensive retort].
  • ["Yes!" accompanier] is a FIST PUMP, à la tiger woods. but not a terrorist fist jab, à la the obamas.
  • [Mini revelations] are not small revelations, but rather things revealed by minis: a lady's KNEES. how perfectly scandalous! i'm still getting used to the idea that loose girls might flash a bit of ankle.
  • good high-culture stuff: poet seamus HEANEY and artist FRANS hals, as well as SONNETS, clued as [Some Keats works]. "on first looking into chapman's homer" is one of my, oh, say, ten favorite poems.
  • good low-culture stuff: [Stereotypical monster's target] is TOKYO. [Gibson guy?] is MAD MAX, portrayed by a very young mel gibson. crossing both is [Four time AL home run champ Jimmie] FOXX, aka "double X" or "the beast."

gnarly/unfamiliar bits (fewer than usual for a wilber, but there were still some):

  • [Sally Ann of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"] is apparently surnamed HOWES.
  • [Snoopy's first owner] is LILA. this seems deliberately obscure, but maybe snoopy fans know it.
  • [Distillery waste] is POTALE. i've never seen this word. or is it two words?
  • ["Married to the Mob" actor] is MODINE. i think that's a last name, but i've never heard of the movie (or show?) or the person.
  • ["Little Shop of Horrors" dentist]? apparently ORIN. i should tuck this one away.