March 26, 2009

Friday, 3/27

NYT 6:32
BEQ 5:43
CHE 3:49
LAT 3:46
CS 3:05
WSJ 7:05

Paula Gamache's New York Times crossword

The centerpiece in Paula's puzzle is a [Certain sex scandal, in slang], or BIMBO ERUPTION. That's just one of 20-some multi-word entries in this puzzle—considerably more phrases than were in the last two Saturday NYTs. This is part of what gives the crossword its extra-fresh feeling. Among my favorite answers and clues, the puzzle boasts these:

  • SWUNG BY is perfectly colloquial language. The clue is [Detoured to pay a visit along the way].
  • [Gallimaufry] is a beautiful word, cooler than GRAB BAG.
  • RITZIER puts a Z in the grid and is clued as [Having superior amenities].
  • [It may fall flat], 7 letters? It's a BAD JOKE. I'll bet there were those who figured SOUFFLE was a gimme here.
  • A [Liberal, informally] is a LEFTIE. I prefer the -ie spelling for politics, the -y spelling for the left-handed folks.
  • [Their beans were used as currency by the Aztecs] clues CACAOS. Yum, chocolate.
  • I had a short detour with [It's not really mink, for example. I started with FAKE FUR instead of the correct FAUX FUR.
  • ET VOILA! That's the [Chef's cry] if the chef is of a dramatic bent.
  • EDAMAME! Probably not something the chef says ET VOILA about. The clue is [Finger food at a Japanese restaurant].
  • [Worker who sets things down] is a SCRIBE, not someone physically putting objects down.
  • The adjective [Game] clues UP TO IT. Smooth.
  • In football, a YARD LINE is a [Grid marking]. Don't check the average crossword grid for a YARD LINE.
  • BTW, or "by the way," is the [Start of a text-message afterthought]. I won't use LMAO, but I do use BTW.
  • JUST RELAX is awfulyl Scrabbly, with that J and X. ["Cool your jets!"].
  • I want MR. FIX-IT ([Recipient of a honey-do list]) to shout "Et voilà!" upon caulking the bathtub.
  • I thought [Old track holders] referred to train tracks, but these tracks are songs and they're held by LP'S.
  • The CICADA is indeed a [Shrill flier]. I can't think of a single flier that's more shrill than the cicada.
And now for the tough stuff:
  • CAPELLA is [One of the 10 brightest stars]. Don't ask me what the other nine are. Sirius?
  • An [Engine line] is an OIL TUBE. Uh, okay. I'm sure I couldn't locate one in my engine. 
  • History: [Connecticut town attacked by the British in the War of 1812] is ESSEX. If you're keeping track, there are counties, townships, or towns named ESSEX in England as well as 13 states and Ontario.
  • [Quaint aviation accessory] is a silk SCARF. You can picture the pilot zipping about in a biplane with the scarf flapping in the wind, can't you?
  • MEA fills in the blank in "___ culpa" as well as ["Magnificat anima ___ Dominum"].
  • There are two [Diamond-shaping choice] clues today: one BAGUETTE and one STEP CUT. Apparently baguettes are examples of step cut diamonds.
  • [Transforming Tonka toys] are GOBOTS. Those were after my childhood and before my son's childhood, so I don't know 'em.
  • Rainer Maria RILKE is ["The Book of Hours" poet].
  • [Enter like a storm trooper] clues BUST INTO.
  • [Cousin of a clog] is a SABOT—one of those words I learned from crossword puzzles.
  • IOS is a Greek [Island SSW of Naxos]. Did Ariadne auf Naxos ever visit friends on Ios?
  • ACUATE is a word meaning [Needle-shaped], and Google suggests that it's not at all common.
Overall, this is a smooth crossword, with relatively few 3-letter answers and short abbreviations, and no words I'd never seen. I'm prepared for a strange word in a Saturday puzzle, but when it's Friday, I'm not expecting any outré obscurities. (And ACUATE didn't feel obscure to me—I sort of thought it was a standard botanical word but perhaps not.)

Michael Ashley's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword

These CHE puzzles are edited by Patrick Berry, Crossword Maestro. There's now a Patrick Berry Facebook fan club with 33 members.

This week's CHE offering is "Ell-isions." At first, I was looking for deleted ELL's in the theme entries, but eventually I saw that all that's been removed from them is a single letter L. Each theme answer began life as a book title:
  • [Getaway resort for pampered fish?] is COD COMFORT FARM. This plays on Cold Comfort Farm by...whoever wrote that. I know the movie with Kate Beckinsale, Rufus Sewell, and Stephen Fry.
  • [What a beach bungalow might have?] is EAVES OF GRASS. With the L, that's Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.
  • [Neologism that saves the day?] is BRAVE NEW WORD. The current economic dismay is fomenting a batch of neologisms; the linked article quotes two lexicographers of my acquaintance, Ben Zimmer and Grant Barrett (attendees this year and last year, respectively, at the ACPT). The book title Ashley used here is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Anyone know where I can get some soma?
  • [What the Rangers' goalie provides?] is SAVES OF NEW YORK (Tama Janowitz's Slaves of New York).
The clues I couldn't answer without the crossings were (1) [1995 Isabel Allende memoir] is PAULA; (2) [Pietro Mascagni opera] is IRIS; (3) [Author of the "Strangers and Brothers" novls] is C.P. SNOW; and (4) [Nom de guerre of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar] is EL CID. My goodness, I'm feeling unliterate. At least I knew that ["Lolita" character ___ Darkbloom] is VIVIAN Darkbloom, an anagram of Vladimir Nabokov. Alas, [Showgirl's name in Barry Manilow's "Copacabana"] was an instant gimme for me.


My son's off school today, so I slept in. Sleeping in is great, but when you eventually realize that you've got four crosswords to blog about in short order, it's a rude (belated) awakening. Onward!

I have been taken to task for not criticizing the use of BIMBO ERUPTION in the NYT crossword, owing to the phrase's innate sexism. No, the women in the noted Clintonian "bimbo eruptions" should not be cast as bimbos, not even if it was a female politico who coined the phrase. Yes, the American media and populace are unreasonably fixated on supposed moral transgressions that really were none of their business unless they were one of the people involved. But if anyone is going to be maligned in a scenario of adulterous goings-on, it's got to be the married individual who's violating a spouse's trust (provided that the relationship is not an "open" one) and not the single person. How often do we hear that a single woman is a "home wrecker" rather than blaming the man who disrespected his wife? Really. As in "bimbo eruption" scenarios, the blame is shifted from a man to a woman, and it's patently unfair and sexist. It's as if men are innocents with no control over their behavior, led astray by women who dare to have sex outside of marriage. It takes two to tango, and if only one of the tangoers is betraying someone, let the scorn fall squarely on the betrayer.

Spencer Corden's Los Angeles Times crossword

This is Spencer Corden's first puzzle—congratulations! He's inserted a PRE into four phrases to create the theme entries, which are made-up phrases with question-marked clues:
  • [Undercover cop?] is a LEGAL PRETENDER. Legal tender is cash money.
  • [Introduction to "SeinLanguage"?], the Jerry Seinfeld book from back in the day, is a FUNNY PREFACE. We all know about funny faces—if you hold it too long, your face may stick that way.
  • [Words to roust an oversleeping ecclesiastic?] are "GET UP, PRELATE!" "Get up late" is a familiar verb phrase.
  • [Cannery worker's credo?] is BORN TO PRESERVE. I'm not sure where "born to serve" comes from. Anyone?
I had no idea that HIPPY was the missing word in [PBS's "The ___ Gourmet TV Show"]. Is this a current or old show? I learned a new plural today: a FINN from Finland is [One who used to spend markkaa]. Before the euro came along, I know the markka was Finland's unit of currency, but I'd never seen the double-A plural form. Whenever I see [Triathletes] referred to as IRONMEN or encounter the Ironman Triathlon, I grumble that the term completely overlooks the women who compete.

Brendan Emmett Quigley's blog crossword, "Jeesh"

Brendan's Friday puzzle takes some phrases with an SH in them, changes the sound to J, and adjusts the spelling as needed to end up with real words in the theme entries. [Cushioned door part?] is a PILLOW JAMB (pillow sham). [Cord to plug in one's receiver to a home stereo?] clues RADIO JACK (the Radio Shack store). Man, did I get mired with AUDIO JACK there. A puppet show turns into PUPPET JOE, or [Vice President Biden installed by the Shadow Government?]. A [Dark Humvee?] would be a BLACK JEEP of sorts (black sheep)—that was the first theme entry where I had the slightest understanding of how the theme worked. A roof shingle becomes ROOF JINGLE, or [Sound heard on Christmas Eve?].

Nobody's excited by variant prefixes (DEK-), letter runs (RST), directions (ESE), partials (IN AID), or old crosswordese (ECU), but there's plenty of good stuff to offset the cruciverbal detritus. The best entries are TULSA, OK; the QB SNEAK; "JAVA JIVE"; SUDOKU; and a DIMWIT. Good to see LUIS clued as [Actor Guzmán]—that guy steals every scene he's in. I was just mentioning soma in the CHE write-up, and here Brendan clues SOMA as ["Brave New World" drug]. I have no idea who TEK is—this [Boston Red Sox captain's nickname]. TEK should be Ted Kennedy's nickname.

Thomas Schier's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Body Language"

The theme entries here are four verb-ONE's-body-part phrases. I wish such crossword answers would routinely swap out the ONE'S and give us YOUR, but what constructor wants to cede the crossword-friendly letters of ONES and have to contend with trickier Y and U instead? If you [Show great interest], you CRANE ONE'S NECK. (Sigh. I want to use "you" but then I get backed into a nongrammatical corner and am forced to one it up.) If one wishes to [Show disinterest], one CLOSES ONE'S EYES. To SHAKE ONE'S HEAD is to [Show agreement or disagreement]. Wait, what? In America, we shake our head "no" and nod our head "yes." What's this agreeable head-shaking? To CLENCH ONE'S JAW is to [Show anger].

Trickiest clues:
  • [Actress Sally Ann] HOWES is someone I've never heard of. She was in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. [Hockey's Gordie and inventor Elias] would have been easier for me.
  • QUOIT is a [Ring used in a throwing game].
  • Four-letter rivers of Europe! Italy's ARNO is a [River to the Ligurian Sea], and the URAL is [Orsk's river].
  • ELISA is a ["Paint Your Wagon" song]. Don't ask me about musicals.

There's a bit of the Klahnesque clue pairing going on here. ["How Great ___ Art"] (THOU) is followed by "Great" art, ["The Great Forest" painter Max] ERNST. There are two Peters in a row, [TV detective Peter] GUNN and the [1997 Peter Fonda title role] ULEE.

Lex Shue's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Mixed Company"

I suspect "Lex Shue" is a new pseudonym for WSJ puzzle editor Mike Shenk. Is it an anagram of something that makes sense? Each theme entry begins with the name of a company, followed by an anagram of that name. There's an INTEL INLET and some CHASE ACHES (clued without reference to the current woes of the banking system). [Digression from a newspaper company?] is a GANNETT TANGENT. My favorite theme entry is PEPSICO ICE POPS, or [Dessert-on-a-stick products from a soda giant?]. I hadn't noticed before that PEPSICO + L = POPSICLE, but I tried to wedge that POPSICLE in here even though it wouldn't fit—not thematically, not space-wise. STAPLES PASTELS are [Art supplies from an office supply store]. The hardest theme answer to puzzle out was the DIRECTV VERDICT, thanks to that mash-up of direct and TV. That clue is [Ruling in a broadcast satellite company's case?]. The last two entries in the theme are ADOBE ABODE and RYDER DRYER. I didn't run into any tough spots with obscure answers, so hooray for smooth fill.