March 14, 2009

Sunday, 3/15

PI 8:10
NYT 7:46
LAT 6:32
BG 6:28
CS 3:14

It's not surprising, really, that Patrick Berry has crafted yet another perfect crossword theme in his Sunday New York Times puzzle, "Prioresses." Not surprising, no, but still astonishing, the level of craft of he brings to it. He's assembled a whopping 12 theme answers that follow the "prior esses" model—two-word phrases in which both words have a "prior" letter S added to the beginning. The resulting nonsense phrases are clued perfectly. I don't know about you, but working through this puzzle, I kept wondering how I'd never hit on this sort of wordplay before—but I'm sure it's nowhere near as easy as it looks to come up with a solid list of a dozen phrases that work well. Here are the lucky 12:

  • SCREAMED SCORN, formerly creamed corn, is [Ridiculed someone as loudly as possible].
  • [Piece of hay?] is a STABLE STALK, formerly table talk. This time, the answer's not as lively as the original phrase.
  • [Comedic bits by guys sitting at a bar?] are STOOL SKITS, from tool kits.
  • [Astronaut's old wound?] is a SPACE SCAR. I'll bet they have some psychic space scars. I have encountered two or three one-time Indy 500 pace cars here in Chicago, just driving around town.
  • Old age turns into SOLD SAGE, or [Worked an herb shop, maybe]. This has the feel of a seed entry that might've launched the entire enterprise.
  • Witch hunts with S's become SWITCH SHUNTS, which sounds like a plausible term for [Change devices that divert trains to different tracks?].
  • SMELTING SPOT is an [Ore refinery?]. The melting pot takes to those esses nicely.
  • An oil pan turns into SOIL SPAN, a [Large field of dirt]. Here, the original and morphed phrases are a little dry. They stand out a bit in this large field of diamonds.
  • [Reaction upon being hit with a chair in WrestleMania?] is SHAM SHOCK, playing on ham hock. This one's so impeccably apt. Professional wrestling is faked, so the shock would be sham.
  • Tying in with the pace car/SPACE SCAR, we have SPIT SCREWS based on pit crews and being mad enough spit nails. The clue is [What an angry robot might do?].
  • I appreciate a good Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference. [What Buffy might be doing at the end of a long, hard night?] is SLAYING SLOW (laying low). Perfect.
  • An [Increase in perfect basketball shots?] is a SWISHING SWELL (wishing well).
Among the more challenging clues in the puzzle were these ones:
  • [Name shared by two apostles] is JAMES.
  • [Eastern Catholic who recognizes the pope's authority] is a UNIATE.
  • [Geological epoch when mastodons appeared] is the MIOCENE.
  • [Colombian carrier] is the airline AVIANCA.
  • [Scratch left on a table?] is a TIP, scratch being slang for money.
  • [Stoked, perhaps] means AGOG if you're using the slangy sense of "stoked" that means "pumped up."
  • SMATTER is [Modest knowledge]. Same thing as "smattering."
  • [Holders of jacks] may be MODEMS, if you're talking about phone jacks.
  • [World Heritage Site in Jordan] is PETRA. Other 5-letter Jordanian place names include AMMAN and AQABA.
  • [Kickback for good publicity] is PLUGOLA, akin to payola in the record/radio businesses.
  • [Pythian Games site] is DELPHI.
And those were just the Acrosses! Now, some clues from the Downs: BEAKER is clued with [It might hold the solution], as in a chemistry lab. [Group with an Exalted Ruler] is the ELKS. [Maker of Caplio cameras] is RICOH. Never heard of Caplios; how about you? Ditto for [Writer William Dean] HOWELLS—chime in if you've ever read him.

Highlights in the fill include answers like MUST-SEE, a Philadelphia PHILLIE, VING Rhames (we just watched part of Mission: Impossible 3 last night), WILL / SMITH of Ali, and...well, with that many theme entries packed in here, Patrick didn't leave himself a ton of room to include intriguing fill. Berry being Berry, of course, the fill's full of familiar words and names and not oddball obscurities.

In this weekend's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword Merl Reagle cooks up some vegetables. The theme entries in "Eat Your Vegetables" center on veggie puns:
  • THE SPINACH INQUISITION is clued ["Answer me! Was it creamed or boiled?"]. Ha! I like this one. It reminds me of the knock-knock joke in the latest episode of The OfficeKnock knock. Who's there? KGB. KGB who? {slap} Ve vill ask ze kvestions!
  • [Good news for salad-bar employees?] is AN INCREASE IN CELERY. While a salary increase is welcome, this clue is factually inaccurate. An increase in celery is never good news.
  • [Veggie plea?] is GIVE PEAS A CHANCE. I gave them a chance. They didn't convince me.
  • [Veggie arts-and-crafts mixture?] is PEPPER MACHÉ. I can't begin to understand how that would work.
  • GENE SHALLOT (Shalit) is a [Noted veggie critic?].
  • [What the veggie-loving children wanted?] was A LEEK OF THEIR OWN. This one plays on A League of Their Own.
  • [Historic 11th century veggie hunt?] was THE NORMAN CORN QUEST. Ouch! Painful pun.
  • [Part of a Carl Sagan veggie recipe?] plays on Sagan's "Millions and millions of years ago..." catchphrase. The answer is SCALLIONS AND SCALLIONS.
Man, that's a lot of oniony stuff. Shallots and leeks and scallions? This puzzle needs an after-solving mint. And then there's no CARROT pun on karats of gold or carats of diamonds? No LETTUCE ENTERTAIN YOU? No BEETS AROUND THE BUSH?

I found the clue for 7-Across to be misleading. [Flatten, as flats] hints at the British spelling RASE, as flats are British and apartments are American. Sure, SINGS didn't make much sense for [Throws hard and fast], but those flats were persuasive. So it's RAZE crossing ZINGS...and the clue for ZINGS doesn't really sing to me. Another tough square was the W in LAW, [Scheck's calling]. That's Innocence Project lawyer Barry Scheck, but his identity wasn't coming to mind with just the last name. At first I had LAT because TEENSY means [Very small, in part] and it's more common than the correct answer, WEENSY.

I liked seeing the last name of [Casimir of the American Revolution], PULASKI. The Chicago Public Schools take a day off to mark Pulaski Day in early March, and there's an artery, Pulaski Road, that spans the entire length of the city.

I enjoyed the theme in Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe crossword rerun in Across Lite, "Team Play." The 10 theme answers reframe assorted phrases as if they pertained to NBA teams. Here are my favorite examples:
  • [Milwaukee locker-room sight?] is a BUCK NAKED. Indeed!
  • THUNDERCLAP is [Oklahoma City fan sound?].
  • [Current star in San Antonio?] is the SPUR OF THE MOMENT.
There were two wildly unfamiliar words in this grid. [Early sonar, to Brits] is ASDIC, and [Informal banking system] is HAWALA. Neither word shows up in the Cruciverb database, so I'm not surprised I've never heard of them. Luckily, the crossings cooperated and the puzzle still came off as a good bit easier than usual.


This weekend's syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword is Mark Feldman's "Lying Around." Each theme entry has an -LY added to a word to change the phrase's meaning:
  • [Plain-looking mortgage broker?] is a HOMELY LOAN AGENT. "Home loan agent" is not such a familiar term. Is it like a loan officer or a mortgage broker?
  • [Unsubstantiated theories?] are HARDLY FACTS.
  • [Really boring Avon lady?] might be a DEADLY RINGER. At least she's not barging in the door with a machete. I don't know that any Avon reps still go door to door to drum up sales.
  • [Palace hospital attendant?] might be an ORDERLY IN THE COURT.
  • GANGLY LEADER is a [Lanky boss?]. I like this one.
  • [Guys' night out?] is MANLY FRIDAY. Cute.
  • The PORTLY OF NEW YORK are [Unfit Manhattanites?]. I'm not wild about "portly" as a noun here.
Overall, this was a pretty easy crossword. Among the answers that might not be so obvious are these:

Geography: [Biblical name of ancient Syria] is ARAM. [Nevada Northern Railway Museum city] is ELY, Nevada. Other crossword Ely clues involve old Tarzan actor Ron Ely and bridge expert Ely Culbertson. Lake TAHOE is also a Nevada name—[Lake near Carson City]. The ARAL SEA is a [Shrinking lake] and not technically a sea.

Twisty clues: [Double take?] is a STUNT, as in a "take" when shooting a movie with a stunt double standing in for the star. [Brain cells?] are CRANIA, the metaphorical jail cells that hold our brains.

Movies and TV: [Actor Everett et al.] is SLOANES. [Roy Rogers's birth name] was Leonard SLYE. [TiVo feature] is PLAYBACK.

  • ["Same old, same old"] clues AS USUAL. I'm not quite seeing the in-a-sentence equivalence of the two phrases.
  • [Golf ball material] is BALATA. I don't know how I knew this. Oh, wait—probably from old crosswords.
  • Did you know that TAPS is a [Tune with only four distinct notes]?
  • There are two CB radio clues in a row: [CBer's acknowledgment] is COPY and [CBer's "Your turn"] is OVER.
  • [Eschew wallpaper, maybe] clues PANEL. Far more people PAINT than PANEL their walls, and I'll bet many of us paused or took a wrong turn here.
  • [Cricket striker] is a BATSMAN.
  • [Crustacean feelers] are PALPS.
Martin Ashwood-Smith's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" was not much of a challenge, thanks to easy short answers crossing the six 15-letter answers. Just for sport, take a look at the completed grid and see how many alternatives come to mind for 3-, 7-, and 11-Down, 15-letter entries with ELA, NGT, and TIG in the middle. Martin's RELIVING THE PAST, or [Getting nostalgic, perhaps], is a great answer.

I had never heard of THE LAST POST, the [Robert Graves poem that starts" The bugler sent a call..."]. There are plenty of other works of art in this puzzle:
  • NIMH completes ["The Secret of ___" (1982 film)].
  • William [Shatner's "___ War"], or TEK, is a sci-fi novel.
  • [Novelist Seton] is named ANYA. I've never read her historical romances.
  • ERDE, or "earth," completes [Mahler's "Das Lied von der ___"].
  • Wayne DYER is ["Your Erroneous Zones" author]. My mom had the self-help book when I was a kid. I suspected it was about erogenous zones at the time.
  • Alastair SIM was a [Scrooge portrayer of 1951] in Scrooge.
  • YES I ["___ Am" (Melissa Etheridge song)] is...a song. I haven't heard it.
  • I do know Patsy CLINE, the ["Crazy" singer], and her classic, "Crazy."
  • Edouard MANET was the ["Olympia" painter].