February 21, 2009

Sunday, 2/22

BG 7:04
PI 7:01
LAT 6:52
NYT 5:52
CS 4:00

Whoo! That was not a hard crossword. I'm pretty sure I haven't cracked the 6-minute mark on a Sunday New York Times crossword before, but Barry Silk and Doug Peterson's "The Cruciverbalist" facilitated that just now. The theme entries are familiar to anyone who has submitted their work to Will Shortz, though a great many of those people don't make it to [Step 6 (the payoff)]. Here are the [Cruciverbalist's Step 1] through 6:

The exact wording of each theme answer wasn't completely obvious, and of course to anyone who hasn't given much thought to how constructors make puzzles, the steps and their order might be elusive. But the non-theme answers that surround the six steps were easy enough to usher solvers through the process. Perhaps because there are just six theme entries (albeit long ones), Barry and Doug were able to avoid any deadly crossings. The only completely unfamiliar answer I encountered was MNEME, or [Memory principle]; I know mnemonic but not MNEME (the word doesn't have a Wikipedia article for this definition, but look, it has its own web page). Wait, that's not true. HARZ, as in [Germany's ___ National Park], was also new to me.

The answers I liked best were these ones:
  • ["Hamlet" star, 1990] is MEL GIBSON. Good crossword entry, talented actor and director, but a man with some serious problems.
  • An EARTHWORM is a [Night crawler].
  • CABBY, or [Driver of a 72-Down], and TAXI, or [Modern advertising medium], go together. I prefer the cabbie spelling, but both ways are valid.
  • "SO THERE!" means ["Hah!"].
  • If you hit [The mother lode], you've struck PAY DIRT.
  • [Jacuzzi] is a HOT TUB.
  • Remember Marcus Welby, M.D.? The ['70s small-screen role for Robert Young] could also be called DR. WELBY.
  • PEPBOYS is a [Big auto parts chain].
Assorted other clues:
  • OSAMA is a [2003 Afghani film that won a Golden Globe]. I prefer Afghan as the adjective and noun.
  • [They keep you from passing] refers to EFFS, as in the letter grade F.
  • [Belgian city in W.W. I fighting] is YPRES.
  • OVINE means [Like rams and lambs] and sheep in general.
  • [Cat Stevens's faith] is ISLAM. His name is Yusuf Islam now.
  • [They have loads to do] clues WASHERS. Does this mean washing machines or people who do the wash?
  • ASIA is [One edition of the Wall Street Journal].
  • [Long-distance call?] is sometimes a YELL.
  • To [gild the lily] is to OVERDO it.
  • SAN REMO is a [Riviera resort].
  • [Page-oner] is a CELEB.
  • [Pope after John X] is LEO VI.
  • [Anatomical passages], in a crossword? Gotta be ITERS.
  • [French equivalent] is EGALE.
  • [Elementary school trio] is the three R's, or RRR (readin', 'ritin', and 'rithmetic).
  • [Hedingham Castle locale] is ESSEX. I'm guessing it's the Essex in England and not the New Jersey county.
  • One [Target of a youth outreach program] might be a RUNAWAY.
  • [Where I's cross?: Abbr.] is JCT., as in an interstate junction.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe crossword rerun in Across Lite, "Body of Work," takes as its theme phrases that pair a body part and an "of ___" component. Working from the top down, there's HAIR OF THE DOG, HEAD OF CABBAGE ("head of steam" or "head of the household" would also have fit), EYE OF THE TIGER ("...the needle" also works), NECK OF THE WOODS, BACK OF BEYOND ("...the box"), CHEST OF DRAWERS, HEART OF THE MATTER ("...palm"), and the roving BONE OF CONTENTION. What, no 'leg of lamb," "butt of the joke," "belly of the beast"? I had one square awry, where a crossing could have a different letter and still pass muster for both clues—[Rush headlong] is CAREE* and [Excludes] is BA*S. CAREEN/BANS or CAREER/BARS? It's the latter, but a noun definition for either word would have made the choice clearer. There was another iffy square—the [Speculative investment] could be spelled FLIER or FLYER, and the crossing [City of Ecuador], c'mon, how many of you know if it's IBARRA or YBARRA? Turns out to be the I. A couple other relatively obscure words are here. AURATE is a [Gold-based acid salt]. HOSTLER is clued as [Roundhouse employee]; this innkeeper's hired tender of horses can also be spelled OSTLER, which also shows up occasionally in crosswords.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Oscar Night," redefines a bunch of words and phrases in an Academy awards context:
  • SHOOTING STARS is a [Photog's job at the Oscars?].
  • Concert HALL MONITORS might be [Visual aid for those in the auditorium's back row?].
  • [Winners in the animated and live-action categories?] might be a PAIR OF SHORTS.
  • [Comment after the TelePrompTer broke?] could be "WHAT'S MY LINE?"
  • [Producer's evasive response as to why the show always runs long? (see 97 Across)] is SONG AND DANCE. I heard they asked Peter Gabriel to cut his song down to about a 90-second snippet and he refused, so he'll not be performing his song on the broadcast.
  • [What some dresses give some celebs?] is GOOD EXPOSURE.
  • [Category that Clint Eastwood wants added?] is BEST WESTERN. Eastwood hasn't done a Western since 1992, has he?
  • 97A is WHOLE NUMBERS, [What might have to be cut to shorten the show].
  • [An Academy Award, plus its definition? (or actually, Steve Austin's boss on "The Six Million Dollar Man")] is OSCAR GOLDMAN.
  • [Joe Pesci's only Oscars complaint?] concerns DE NOMINATIONS.
XEBEC, the [Corsair's vessel], has got to be the single most obscure word in this crossword. I like seeing L.A. TIMES right up top at 1-Across, clued as a [W Coast daily].

Dan Naddor's syndicated Sunday Los Angeles Times crossword, "Star Search," combines a crossword puzzle with a word search. Naddor takes a couple liberties with the theme entries' layout. The eight theme entries are titles of movies whose stars won an OSCAR (116-Across), the [Award won by lead actors in this puzzle's starred films: the winners' names are hidden "word search"-style in the grid (across, down or diagonally, and forward or backward)], but they're not all in symmetrical locations. (I've added circles to the squares where the stars' names are spelled out in my solution grid.) A couple long non-theme answers butt in:
  • SANTA MONICA PIER is the [Westernmost point of Forrest Gump's long run]. Tom HANKS' last name is hidden inside 73-Down, but the movie title, Forrest Gump, is not a theme entry, and neither is SANTA MONICA PIER despite its length. Yes, Hanks won an Oscar for this movie, but he also won for PHILADELPHIA, which gets a starred clue (45A. [1993 film]). Al PACINO is found backwards in SANTA MONICA PIER, though.
  • 82A, [Rival of Leonardo], appears opposite PHILADELPHIA in the grid, but MICHELANGELO isn't a theme entry. It does hide Jessica LANGE, though.
In addition to PHILADELPHIA, here are the theme entries:
  • 33A. [1987 film] is MOONSTRUCK, starring Cher. Her name's hidden in 9-Across.
  • 57A. [1994 film] is BLUE SKY, starring Jessica Lange.
  • 74A. [2003 film] is MONSTER, starring Charlize Theron. She's hiding in 5-Down.
  • 95A. [1980 film] is RAGING BULL. Robert DE NIRO runs diagonally down from square 62.
  • 106D. [1995 film] is Nicolas Cage's LEAVING LAS VEGAS. His name's in 93-Down.
  • 3D. [1992 film] is SCENT OF A WOMAN, and I just don't understand how Al Pacino won that Oscar. He was up against Denzel Washington in Malcolm X, Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin, and Stephen Rea in Crying Game...and he just shouted "Hoo-ah!" a lot.
  • 58D. [1982 film] is SOPHIE'S CHOICE. Meryl Streep's name is symmetrically opposite from De Niro's, diagonally upwards ending in square 45.
Despite the limitations that the word-search answers place on the constructor, the overall fill is remarkably smooth—no overreliance on unfamiliar abbreviations, foreign vocabulary, or obscurities.

(If you're an LA Times reader, you may be wondering why this isn't the same puzzle that's in your Sunday paper. I don't solve the one that's printed in the Sunday LA Times, but you can do the excellent syndicated Sunday puzzle for free. Just register (it's free) at Cruciverb.com, download the Across Lite crossword-solving software (also free) here, and click the LA Times link in the Cruciverb home page's sidebar on Sundays. The Monday through Saturday LA Times puzzles are also available in Across Lite via Cruciverb, and these will be the same as what's in the newspaper. With Across Lite, you can solve on-screen, save a partially finished puzzle for later, or print it out for pen/pencil solving. )

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" has some sort of blah fill, but also some fun stuff:
  • ERICA KANE is a [Daytime TV character since January 5, 1970].
  • [Carnival quarters?] is a good clue for cruise-ship STATEROOMS. Carnival Cruises, not the sort of carnivals that hire carnies.
  • ARCHIE [Andrews from Riverdale] is the classic comic-book teenager.
  • Linda RONSTADT is the ["Different Drum" singer]. Why haven't I heard of that song?
  • MARMOSET! That's a [Mini-monkey] of a sort. Have you seen the " Marmoset There'll Be Days Like This" video?
In the "blah" category, we have these:
  • [Good place to drill] is an oil WELL SITE.
  • TENDEREST, with an -EST ending, is clued [Like the best steak].
  • There are several -ER words. ROOTER is a [Fan], as in a fan rooting for her team to win. LADER is a [Longshoreman, e.g.]. ARRIVERS are clued with [They're met at the airport]. RICER is a [Kitchen gadget], and it's a more common word with its -ER ending than these other ones.
  • There are -INGs at the end of a few words, too. PINNING is a [Tailor's activity]. DICING is [Preparing peppers, perhaps]. CCING is clued as [Keeping in the loop, briefly].