February 28, 2009

Sunday, 3/1

NYT 10:30
LAT 9:37
PI 9:34
CS 5:12
BG tba...?

robert w. harris's new york times sunday crossword is called "good and bad." the title informs us: For the answer to each starred clue, including the first letter is good; dropping it is bad. what does this mean? let's see:

  • [*Good and bad for a motorist] is (W)RECKLESS DRIVING. yes, it's good to be wreckless (if that's a word). reckless is bad.
  • [*Good and bad for a marketer] is (C)LOSING A SALE.
  • [*Good and bad for a West Point cadet] is (S)HAVING A BEARD. this one seemed the weakest to me—i can see why having a beard would be bad, but is shaving one really "good"? isn't it pretty unlikely that you had one to begin with?
  • [*Good and bad for a jungle guide] is a (T)RUSTY MACHETE. is either one of these an "in the language" phrase? maybe i'm being nitpicky, but i don't really understand what the MACHETE part of this answer is really doing for it.
  • [*Good and bad for a vampire] is (B)LACK OF NIGHT. i liked this one. it's definitely an oddball answer, but it amuses me to think about vampires struggling with lack of night.
  • [*Good and bad for a spy] is (C)OVERT OPERATIONS.

overall, this was a so-so theme. a clever idea, to be sure, and i like that it's consistent in terms of keeping the full answer as "good" and the shorter answer as "bad." what i didn't like about it was the fact that one and sometimes both of the answers weren't really standalone crossword answers: WRECKLESS DRIVING and OVERT OPERATIONS, for example, are obviously made-up phrases. of course, i guess that's the idea; it's really a wordplay theme in disguise. maybe a tiny change like adding ? to the theme clues would have appeased me. or maybe i'm just being finicky. okay, i've talked myself into liking the theme. that was easy!

the puzzle took me a little bit longer to piece together than a typical sunday. clues that tripped me up:

  • [Places] are LOCI. i started with the verb LAYS, which obfuscated the (S)HAVING A BEARD theme answer.
  • adjacent to that, [Minnesota county or its seat] is WINONA. i was going to say this seemed deliberately obscure (why not WINONA ryder?), but google's top hits are mostly minnesota-related; ryder doesn't make it until #7.
  • [Kind of drug that inhibits bacteria] is SULFA. did everybody else know this? i sure didn't.
  • [Criminal's worry] is WIRETAP. actually, rod blagojevich wasn't worried about this enough, it seems. i like this answer, but the clue is pretty vague.
  • the northeast part of the puzzle took the longest. i couldn't figure out the end of SPILLING for [Cause of a stain, perhaps]. i had SPILL___ and was wondering why there were three more letters at all; then i tried SPILLAGE, which looked pretty ugly. the clue for NOUN, [You name it], wasn't much help. KLATSCH is a word i didn't know until last friday (and this is the first time i've seen this spelling). NECKLET doesn't look like a word at all, and if it is a word, it should mean a very small neck, not a piece of clothing like a [Stole, e.g.]. painter KEITH haring is unknown to me, as are CELESTE frozen pizzas. on the bright side, ARCANA is a great word, and i love seeing SAMUEL in the grid (even clued as the already-overexposed-in-crosswords [Justice Alito]) because it's my son's name.

most of the long fill in this puzzle seemed a little boring: LIBERATE, MANEUVER, SCHEMED, REBUKED, ADULATES, SPILLING, TACITLY. there were some quasi-awkward inflected forms, too, like SAXISTS (?!), STATIST, PANNER, BUTCHY (?!), EGGER, and NEARISH. but here's some stuff i liked:

  • AARE sitting on SAAB tickles me, for no readily apparent reason.
  • [Home of "Christina's World," for short] is the MOMA. i love that painting! it's on the cover of my copy of winesburg, ohio, which i also love.
  • that area also had SATYR clued as [Chorus member in an ancient Greek play], crossing THE RAGE, or [What's hot]. good answer, good clue.
  • DOFF is just an excellent word, isn't it?

okay, good night from here. i'll check in tomorrow morning(-ish) with the rest of the sunday slate.

merl reagle's philadelphia inquirer sunday crossword, "running gags," offers ten running-based puns on celebrity names, including (as is merl's wont) stacked long theme entries in the NW and SE. literally every single one of these took more than half the crossings for me to work out, but luckily the crossings weren't that tough. the only place where i tripped up was trying DOM DELUWHEEZE instead of DOM DE LA WHEEZE, since the actor's name is delUise, and i had no clue on the crossing down clue [Indian city, or Lord Jim's ship] PATNA. kind of a bummer, since i know some geography and love conrad, but i haven't read lord jim. it's on my list.

i don't love pun themes, and i don't love puzzles littered with names of people i only half-recognize (if that), so this one ... well, i didn't love it. but i did like it. it was nifty to include the M*A*S*H actress pun LORETTA SWEAT (swit), and also have ALAN ALDA's full name in the fill. other stuff from the fill that i dug: SPIKE LEE, RINGSIDE, ACTIVISM, NODS OFF, and the improbable-looking ukrainian river DNEPR. i'm pretty sure i'm used to seeing it with at least one and usually two more vowels than that, although even "dneiper" looks a little vowel-challenged. i also liked the scrabbly SW corner, with four Ks, a J and a Z.

updated 1:00 pm:

rich norris's themeless crossynergy sunday challenge is anchored by two 15s crossing in the center of the grid, SPOKE OFF THE CUFF and SCHOOL OF THOUGHT. i like SCHOOL OF THOUGHT, but the SPOKE part of SPOKE OFF THE CUFF seemed a little arbitrary to me. still, it's a fun answer with four Fs, and overall this was a good sunday challenge, with quite smooth fill overall.

the cluing was only a little tougher than a typical CS themeless; usually rich's name in the byline means we can expect some devilry. there were a few curveballs thrown in, of course. here were the sunny spots:

  • [Places to see high chairs] are SKI LIFTS, in the sense that they have chairs which are high off the ground. but very few babies are eating in those chairs.
  • [Lines at the theater] comprise the SCRIPT, not a plural noun. i think this was my favorite clue.
  • [Seek out fiddlers?] clues the verb to CRAB, as in fish for fiddler crabs. i didn't know this was a verb.
  • two similar answers in the third row both consisted of an acronym + word: LBJ RANCH, the [Historical attraction W of Austin], and the DC AREA, clued as [Arlington, Va. is part of it]. hey! that's where i am right now. ironically, this was the last thing i figured out in the puzzle.

i did not know: HCH, the [Pres. before FDR]. did you know hoover's middle initial? wikipedia says it stands for clark. also, [Sch. with a Lima campus] is apparently OSU. i guess it's lima, ohio? or maybe oregon... or oklahoma. i'm gonna guess ohio.

i might not have time to get to the BG and LAT puzzles until late tonight. feel free to comment on them, though, and i'll try to remember not to peek until i solve those two.

updated 9:00 pm:

fred piscop's syndicated LA times sunday crossword, "catching fish," hides the names of types of fish across word breaks in nine long theme answers. my favorite was the delightful realization that MRS. O'LEARY of great chicago fire fame hides a SOLE. i did not know YUPIK ESKIMO, clued as [Todd Palin ancestor, e.g.], and in fact the entire NW was pretty tough going: SAY, TRU, and PAP had clues that i didn't immediately recognize, and both STPAT and ARABY were also not immediately forthcoming (though i've seen that STPAT clue enough times that i really should have caught onto it). in fact, it wasn't until i realized that the theme fish in the answer was a PIKE that i was finally able to crack it.

what i didn't crack was the square where [Hundred: Prefix] met [She played WKRP's Jennifer]. the prefix can certainly be HECTO- or HECTA- (among other things; HEKTA- is also used), and i just didn't know the actress... or so i thought. it turns out that it's just LONI anderson, whom i've seen clued a zillion times as [Burt's ex]. whoops. this is what i get for having only surface knowledge! actually, it's kind of refreshing to see this person clued via what she did rather than via who her husband was. there was another knotty crossing in the grid, with ["Peg Wolfington" author] charles READE meeting [Elissa of "The Count of Monte Cristo" (1934)] LANDI at the D. luckily i knew READE, who's been in crosswords fairly often; no clue on the 1930s actress. that's kind of rough.

stuff i enjoyed from the fill: CONFLUENT and ADOLESCE look like normal words that have switched endings. MUUMUU is always fun (and no, i've never played it in scrabble, at least not with the four-U spelling). CHARLATAN is also an excellent word. LEGMAN reminds me of the seinfeld episode with teri hatcher.

the boston globe puzzle link doesn't seem to be working, so i guess i'm done for the day. tomorrow, we can welcome ACPT 9th-place hero orange back from her trip. yay! it's been fun, but also exhausting, serving as your oxymoronic GUEST HOST this weekend. i don't know how amy does it every day.