March 19, 2009

Friday, 3/20

BEQ 5:05
NYT 4:29
CHE 4:15
LAT 4:00
CS 2:55
WSJ 7:20

I tell ya, I kept trying to write the word BONE at the end of a phrase in David Levinson Wilk's New York Times crossword, and the first two times it was wrong. Third time's the charm! In this magnificent puzzle, there are 10 15-letter answers criss-crossing all over the place. Most of them cluster in the two triple-stacks in the middle of the grid—and that, my friends, is a difficult feat to pull off. Mr. Levinson Wilk doesn't stop there, though—oh, no. He further frames the puzzle with another 15 near each edge, which intersect the triple-stacks. These 10 long phrases are all marvels, too—not a dry noun with a boring clue in the lot:

  • 17A. [Their parts are usually unusual] clues CHARACTER ACTORS.
  • 32A. [Not merely having wet clothes] means SOAKED TO THE SKIN. At first I had SOAKED TO THE BONE here. No...
  • 39A. [Later] clues AT SOME OTHER TIME. This is probably the worst of the long answers, and it's really not bad.
  • 40A. To FILL IN THE BLANKS is to [Provide what's missing]—or complete a crossword puzzle. Perfect answer to find in a crossword.
  • 56A. To [Just know] something is to FEEL IN ONE'S BONES. The BONE I wanted in 32A and 6D finally found its rightful home.
  • 3D. [They include amaretto and sloe gin] clues the mixed drinks called ALABAMA SLAMMERS. My god, those sound painfully syrupy.
  • 6D. ROTTEN TO THE CORE (not ___ TO THE BONE, as I first thought) means [As bad as can be].
  • 7D. To [Get all dapper] is to DRESS TO THE NINES.
  • 8D. [Very close, in a way] clues ACROSS THE STREET. This is maybe a tad arbitrary as phrases that are kosher for crosswords go—it's not quite an established phrase the way "across the board" or "on the streets" are.
  • 11D. This one was a gimme that helped fill in the Across triple-stack: STOP MAKING SENSE is the seminal [1984 Talking Heads concert film and hit album].
The rest of the puzzle consists of the 3-, 4-, and 5-letter words that cement the 15's into place. Here are the more unusual ones and the ones with the tough clues.
  • 5A. ["___ Warning" ("Das Rheingold" aria)] clues ERDA'S.
  • 16A. We've seen the UTNE Reader in plenty of puzzles, but not the [___ Independent Press Awards].
  • 20A. [Hero, to some] is a PO'BOY sandwich. Yum. I'm going to have po'boys at least twice in New Orleans over spring break in April.
  • 24-25A. [Surreal beginning?] and [Surreal ending?] are the letter ESS and the suffix ISM, respectively. The constructor credits Will Shortz for those clues.
  • 44A. [Series standout, briefly] is an MVP, as during the World Series.
  • 60A. FREER is clued as [Less formal]. Boy, the -ER part of that answer was easy, but I was stuck on the rest.
  • 62A. SASS is a [Reason for parental scolding]. Oh, yes indeed, it sure is.
  • 4D. [The Emperor, The Empress or The High Priest] meant nothing to me, but with the final T in place, I wagered it was TAROT.
  • 5D. [Condensation indication] must be DEW, right? Nope. It's ETC., which indicates that a listing is being condensed.
  • 27D. TOTIN' is clued in just about the only way it could be: [Gun-___ (like Yosemite Sam)].
  • 30D. You up on your 25-year-old pop culture trivia? [Carol Kane's role on "Taxi"] was SIMKA. She was Andy Kaufman's character Latka's wife or girlfriend.
  • 34D. I really hope some solvers misinterpreted [Virgin's parent] and didn't think first of the record label. EMI is the answer.
And how about the look of the empty grid? You know how a comic strip character looks alarmed? With short lines radiating outward from their head? The two-square dashes at the outer edges make the grid look surprised—as well they should, because it is a surprising grid to behold. It also looks a little like that wooden labyrinth game, only without a hole in the middle for the marble to drop into. Well done, Mr. Levinson Wilk. More soon, please.

This week's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword by Joon Pahk plays a game with famous paintings. In "Talking Pictures," the theme answers are made-up phrases that sound like the names of paintings, but are spelled differently:
  • Botticelli's Birth of Venus becomes THE BERTH OF VENUS, or a [Painting that depicts a divine sleeper car].
  • Monet's Water Lilies is transformed into "WHAT ARE LILIES?" I'm one of those who says water with an "aw" sound and what with a schwa, though apparently the "ah" sound works for both words too. The clue is [Painting that depicts the answer to a horticultural "Jeopardy!" question?]—though the game show lingo would have that say it depicts the question for an answer. (And the game show lingo is goofy.)
  • [Painting of Don Quixote?] is THE STARRY KNIGHT, playing on Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night. Now, Quixote is indeed starry-eyed, but I'm not sure that starry without the -eyed means the same thing.
Joon's filled out the grid with an assortment of 7-, 8-, and 9-letter answers. [Horrifically unpleasant] clues BEASTLY, but GHASTLY fits most of the crossings too. CARACALLA was a [Nefarious 3rd-century Roman emperor]. I need to work on honing my nefariousness. My favorite spot is where a WORMHOLE, or [Hypothetical space-time shortcut], butts up against the HOOSEGOW, or [Slammer]. Favorite clue: [Proceed on foot?] with a question mark means to HOP on one foot; without the question mark, you're merely walking on two feet.


I'm reading the galley proof of Dean Olsher's upcoming book, From Square One: A Meditation, with Digressions, on Crosswords. (Available for preorder.) In one digression, Dean delves into the differences between Will Shortz and Peter Gordon's editing choices, as demonstrated in two versions of a puzzle by Anthony Salvia that were inadvertently accepted for publication by more than one paper. The NYT version came second and appeared online briefly before it was replaced by a different puzzle—but the mix-up allows for an interesting dissection of the two editors' styles. (Which you'll have to buy the book to read—my blog only touched on it briefly.)

I mention this because Anthony Salvia's name popped up in the byline of today's colorful LA Times crossword. The two Across theme entries at the top and bottom are clued in parallel with each other, one red and one blue, as are the two loner Down theme entries at the sides. The middle theme entry combines [Red and blue states?] into PURPLES. The unmingled color clues are as follows:
  • 18A. BANKRUPTCY could be called a [Red state?].
  • 60A. Melancholy is a [Blue state?].
  • 4D. [In a red state?] clues EMBARRASSED.
  • 27D. [In a blue state?] is FROZEN SOLID. I started out with FROZEN STIFF.
Red states and blue states, of course, more commonly refer to states that vote Republican and Democratic, respectively. I often find myself seeing red a little bit when it comes to the Friday LAT puzzle—I have trouble parsing the clues but not in an enjoyable way (vs. usually liking the toughest clues in a Saturday NYT). But not today—the puzzle took about as long as most Friday LATs, but the clues were more my style. For example:
  • [Catch lots of rays?] clues BAKE. Perhaps BASKing involves a smaller number of UV rays than getting BAKEd?
  • AHEM is clued with ["May I say something?"].
  • The ALTAR is a [Site for a union meeting?].
  • [They're tightened during hard times] clues BELTS. Apparently I neglected to read the entire clue because I had BOLTS at first.
  • [It might be heard from one going to court] clues SERENADE. Here, "court" is the wooing verb, not the noun. Great mislead.
  • [Language suffix?] is SPEAK. As in doublespeak, valspeak.
  • [South American carrier] isn't the airline VARIG, it's a LLAMA.
  • The ORYX is a [Desert antelope]. It's also an award given to memorable crosswords.
  • An OLIVE is a [Pimiento container, possibly].
  • If you're NOSY, you are [Inappropriately involved].
  • NUDNIK is a great word. It's clued as an [Annoying type].
There's also a bit of crosswordese here, too. OSIER is a [Basket maker's supply]. It took me many years to remember that the basketry willow is OSIER while the ORIEL is a projecting bay window. I used to plug in the three vowels and wait for the crossings to point me towards the correct word.

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy crossword, "Mail Call," is really easy. I solved this one in Across Lite by filling in Down entries in sequence. I skipped over theme entry 10D, [Sitting Bull was on his show], and wasn't sure what to do with 48D, ["Speak up!"], but everything else was filled in quickly, with glances at some of the Across clues along the way. BUFFALO BILL required two Across clues for the B and U before I figured out what the answer would be. And SAY IT demanded a look at all five crossings. The theme is things that come in the mail, which are found at the end of the four longest answers. There's the bill to pay in BUFFALO BILL, along with these three:
  • [It can get swiped by its owner] refers to a CREDIT CARD, and you get greeting cards in the mail.
  • The RADIO FLYER is a [Classic wagon] for kids. Various advertising flyers clutter our mailboxes.
  • A [Sans-serif character] may be a BLOCK LETTER, and alas, most of the letters I get in the mail are form letters and not personal correspondence.
Brendan Quigley's puzzle is called "Look Again: Nope, keep looking" because looking—or seeing—is at the heart of the theme. The three longest answers are clued with nothing but cross-references to other shorter answers, but in order to make sense out of this, you need to mentally insert see before the shorter answer. The resulting "see ___" phrase serves as a proper clue for the long answer. To wit:
  • The 17A clue is [See 69-Across]. That clue is [Deeply blushing], or RED. To "see red" is to BECOME TICKED OFF.
  • The 38A clue is [See 26-Down], whose clue is [Completed], or THROUGH. To "see through" someone is to NOT BE FOOLED BY them.
  • 62A instructs you to [See 49-Across], which is STARS, or [Hollywood Walk of Fame sights]. To "see stars" is to HAVE A CONCUSSION. 
The theme answers don't meet the usual criteria for crossword fill, as they're not smoothly worded stand-alone phrases. But they're examples of a clue/answer reversal theme, where the theme answers could pass for clues for the shorter phrases lurking in the clues—only in this case, the shorter phrase has been split in two and plunked into the grid without the SEE part. Does that make sense as I've explained it? I hope so.

Highlights: The JOB JAR is a [Democratic way of assigning chores]. To BELLYACHE means to [Whine]. One sort of [Development area] is a PHOTO LAB. Brendan makes use of a new clue alternative for JAI: ["___ Ho" (2009 Best Original Song)] refers to the Oscar-winning song from Slumdog Millionaire. There's still no zippy clue for ALAI, but at least JAI has a workable option besides [___ alai] now. Interesting quote: ART ["___ is never finished, only abandoned": Leonardo da Vinci]. DOTS is clued as the [Classic pencil-and-paper game]—I gotta remember to teach this one to my son.

Lowlights: The junky little words that glue the better stuff into place include AGAR, RELET, the E.T.O., SOO clued as ["And your point being...?"] (rather than Jack Soo or the Soo Canals, which are mighty boring). Also CRUSHER clued as the [Final blow]—nobody says that in my circle, but there are junkyard crushers and crusher hats.

Harvey Estes constructed this week's Wall Street Journal crossword, "English Muffing." In this entertaining theme, various English phrases are muffed by the addition of a G to the end:
  • 26A. [Orange-flavored stout drink?] is a BLACK AND TANG. A Black and Tan combines a stout like Guinness and an ale or lager like Bass or Harp. Tang was my favorite reconstituted powdered beverage when I was a kid. Way more astronaut cachet than Kool-aid.
  • 46A. [Mild yet firm oath?] clues STEELY DANG. Steely Dan is most often seen in crosswords when their album AJA is in the fill.
  • 60A. [Monarch with intimates?] is KITH AND KING.
  • 80A. A [Cookie jar?] might be a WAFER THING.
  • 102A. [What a remorseful torturer thinks about?] is the RACK AND RUING.
  • 16D. [Promotion that isn't deserved?] is an UNEARNED RUNG on the career ladder.
  • 56D. [Arizona Diamondback's weapon?] is a BASEBALL FANG. The Diamondbacks are an MLB team and diamondbacks are rattlesnakes with fangs.
This puzzle has four cool sections of stacked 7-letter answers. In one such segment, the Filipino [Language that gave us "boondocks"], TAGALOG, crosses TAG ALONG, or [Come too]. Back before I knew anyone who spoke Tagalog, I was fond of the language simply because I thought of it whenever I snacked on those Girl Scout cookies called Tagalongs. (Crunchy cookie, peanut butter creme, and chocolate coating? I want some now!)

Favorite clues:
[High-level conflict] is a DOGFIGHT fought high in the air among planes.
[They have high crowns] clues TOP HATS.
An ANECDOTE is a [Short story].
[Breathless?] is DEAD, and the very next clue is [Leave breathless], or AWE.
SNOW is a [Wet blanket].
[Relief pitcher's goal] is to get the SAVE. Right below it in the grid is SALE, clued as a [Pitcher's goal].
[They show what they've got] clues FLASHERS. Flashers are icky and should be procecuted to the fullest.
HERCULES is a [Labor leader?].
[It's a wrap] clues a DIAPER.
The decennial CENSUS is indeed a [Big count].