February 06, 2009

Saturday, 2/7

Newsday 12ish, while watching TV and talking with family
LAT 8:45
NYT 5:06

Have we seen a themeless crossword by Pete Muller before? He seems like one of those twisty-theme specialists to me, so maybe this New York Times crossword is his first published themeless. And maybe it isn't. As I traveled through this puzzle I had a few missteps. [Idols, often] are SEX OBJECTS, but I started out with SEX SYMBOLS. I had to change that when [Rambler's lack] was going to be a 7-letter noun starting with a Y, which just looked implausible. For [Drink with a bite], I decided the lemon drink was a cocktail called a LEMON SOUR. Hmm, what would that be? Googling suggests that's a cocktail ingredient. The actual answer here is LEMON SODA, which is not sold in most groceries as far as I can tell.

Favorite answers and clues:

  • SMART DRUGS are [Enhancers of cognitive abilities]. My first thought was SMART FOODS, but that didn't wish to cooperate with any crossings.
  • Lucy [Lawless vehicle] is XENA, Warrior Princess. That show was awesomely good cheese.
  • The [Rambler's lack] is BREVITY.
  • FRANK means [Open], while [Somewhat open] clues AJAR. Don't you want to tell someone who's only opening up a bit to you that they're ajar?
  • LIVE-IN MAID is an [Upper-class luxury]. Just how much was Mike Brady earning as an architect that the Brady Bunch could afford shoes and clothes for six kids and Alice, the live-in housekeeper?
  • A [Spot to show off alpine plants] is a ROCK GARDEN.
  • [Icing] isn't just sugary frosting—it's also DOING IN, as in assassinating.
  • MIMES are [Those whose actions speak louder than words?], and TALKING is the [Activity avoided by 24-Down].
  • [Pyrexia] means FEVER. Do not treat this with Pyrex.
  • I got the answer to a football clue! [Choice for third and short] is a SNEAK. Is that a quarterback sneak?
Stuff I didn't know:
  • ["Grease" co-writer Jim] JACOBS is not known to me. Nor is FIFI, [Maggie's dog in "Bringing Up Father"].
  • [The Louvre's Salles des ___]...hmm, looking for a French word. Why is it ETATS? Will someone who's been there tell me?
  • CIRE is a [Glazed, waxy fabric finish]. I've seen this word once or twice before in crosswords but needed all the crossings to remember it.
  • [Solitaire game of matching pairs of cards] is MONTE CARLO.
  • RICO is the name of [First baseman Brogna].
Updated Saturday morning:

Tom Heilman's themeless LA Times crossword is perhaps the hardest LA Times puzzle in a year. I got through the northeast and southwest quadrants okay, but the southeast put up a fight and the northwest tried to kill me. There were some answers that were flat-out unfamiliar to me:
  • [Rm.-and-meals systems] are APS. I don't have the foggiest idea what this abbreviation stands for.
  • BLACK MASS is a [Parodic ceremony]. Who's doing the parodying?
  • [Tribe originally from Carolina] is TUSCARORA.
  • Now, those two longer ones were stacked together in the northwest, and the crossing answers tended to have tough clues.
  • [Capital of Iran's East Azerbaijan Province] is TABRIZ. The specificity of the clue might help if you're Googling or looking at a map, but otherwise? No. Very few American crossword solvers keep tabs on the various provinces of Iran.
  • [Get ready to take off]—like a plane? like someone leaving? like clothes? No, like shoes: UNLACE.
  • [Presidential briefing?] is a clue I don't like. The answer is CIC, as in "commander-in-chief." "Briefing" is not a standard way of pointing us towards an abbreviation, is it?
I didn't have fun with that corner—it just annoyed me. Maybe I shouldn't have had cake for breakfast. Is that a smart food?

I do like the inclusion of a mini-theme (sort of) in the middle answers: The [Pedestrian right-of-way] is sometimes called a ZEBRA CROSSING, and the pedestrian may be waiting a while in RUSH-HOUR TRAFFIC ([Cause of many a clogged artery]). Other tough clues or bright spots:
  • SOCCER MOM is a [Suburban stereotype].
  • [E-mail letters] clues AOL. I wish AOL didn't have those two vowels, because those make it show up in far too many crosswords. The clues tend to accord AOL the importance it had a decade ago, but now Comcast and AT&T have many more customers than AOL. AOL needs to go away...
  • [Silicate minerals] are MICAS. I've done enough crosswords (too many?) that this was a total gimme with the M in place.
  • I didn't know [Naomi Campbell, e.g.] was AFRO-ASIAN (via a Chinese Jamaican grandparent). I also didn't know that there are about 70,000 Chinese Jamaicans in Jamaica.
  • The religious holiday/feast/what-have-you of Epiphany was the same day as my grandma's birthday, January 6. [When Epifania del Senor is celebrated] is ENERO, or January in Spanish.
  • Pants INSEAMS are clued [They end at the ankle].
  • LAO TSE is [Literally, "old master"].
  • ZEROES IN means [Focuses]. Good answer.
  • SPYWARE consists of [Invasive programs]. Another good answer.
Dan Stark's Newsday "Saturday Stumper" has not a single hard answer. Every answer is straightforward and familiar. The clues, alas, were not easy—but at least you could tell if anything was wrong because the crossings didn't make sense. (Solution here.) Case in point: for 60-Down, [Indonesian export], 3-letter word starting with T, I plugged in TEA. That completely obstructed the appearance of any reasonable words in 62- and 64-Across. Eventually I erased the EA and discovered [Got to go] could be ENLISTED and [Corrects one's words, perhaps] could be REENTERS, making the export TIN. An easier clue for TIN would have knocked minutes off my solving time here. Favorite clues: [Rats' relative] is the interjection DARN. I had DAMN, which made [Walt's brother] MOY instead of ROY Disney. [#1 preceder] is WE'RE, as in "We're #1!" [It has new tails in 2009] clues CENT—I guess the penny will get some non-Lincoln Memorial obverses this year, but I haven't seen any new pennies yet.

1-Across had a little trick to it. The answer to [Signifies] doesn't end with an S, it ends with a TO. So I wrote an S before T, thinking of something like POINTS TO. Eventually I worked through the rest of that corner and discovered it was ADDS UP TO, with tha P starting PITA, a [Mediterranean staple]. Did you know that a [Surname shared by at least eight related sports pros] is UNSER? I thought of the three Alous and ran out of ideas. [Rig devices] means devices in truckers' rigs: CB'S. That crosses CREATE for the verb [Institute], BARTER for a [Kind of commerce] (with the ARTE in place, my mind only saw CARTEL), and photographers' SPEEDS.