March 21, 2009

Sunday, 3/22

PI 8:25
NYT 8:05
LAT 6:12
BG 6:01
CS 3:10

The New York Times crossword puzzle brings newish constructor Joon Pahk to the ranks of Sunday puzzledom, accompanied by his friend Matt Matera. If you're interested in knowing how the puzzle came about, check out the interview at Jim Horne's Wordplay blog. If you just want the nitty-gritty about the puzzle, hey, stick around here, kiddo. The title of the crossword is "Closing the Deal," and card games typically involve cards being dealt out in some fashion. The end of each theme entry is a word that's also the name of a card game (and not just games using a standard deck of 52). I think there are nine theme entries, but if there are more I've missed, I know someone will point it out. Here are the ennead:

  • One sort of [Painful prod] is a RED-HOT POKER. Ow!
  • [Engagement gift] is a DIAMOND SOLITAIRE. 
  • A noted [Conflict of 1973] is the YOM KIPPUR WAR. I was misreading the date as 1793, which did me no favors here. My kid's a fan of the game of war.
  • On The Price Is Right, part of a [Showcase Showdown prize, perhaps] is a DINETTE SET. If you don't have a set of Set cards, you can play on the NYT website.
  • ARTICHOKE HEARTS are [Fancy salad ingredients].
  • BATHTUB GIN is a terrific crossword answer in and of itself. It's got the gin game at the end, and it's clued as a [Speakeasy supply].
  • The [Subject of a nursery rhyme that has only eight different words] is LONDON BRIDGE. Bridge is a game that gets a lot of love in the crossword.
  • CENTURY TWENTY-ONE is a [Big name in real estate].
  • One [Classic name in chain restaurants] is PIZZERIA UNO. Ah, who doesn't love Uno? Bright colors and the punishment of a well-timed Draw Four card.
There are lots of cool answers and clues in this crossword, but right now I'm short on time. So let me start out by presenting the 10 Answers Most Likely to Stymie People:
  1. 95A. [English poet laureate Henry] PYE. According to Joon and Matt's interview, they originally had the crosswordese church container PYX here, which I honestly would have found easier. PYE was tucked in a little cul-de-sac and the name's not familiar to me unless you're talking about joe-pye weed.
  2. 98A. ISSUANT is clued as [Having only the forepart visible, as a beast in heraldry]. Heraldry! I never did study up on heraldry vocab.
  3. 21A. [Manuscript marks noting possible errors] are OBELI. Huh? The word refers to typographical daggers now (†), but when used in ancient texts, my dictionary says, the obelus symbol for marking a spurious word was – or ÷. I didn't know the latter meaning/usage at all.
  4. 88A. [Montreal-___ International Airport] clues MIRABEL. Mirabile dictu! (Not.)
  5. 93D. [Young woman, old-style] clues the archaic DAMOZEL. Hey, at least that one was a little bit more gettable for me than those other ones.
  6. 77D. [Thomas Hardy's ___ Heath] clues EGDON. Fictitious English place names! Wikipedia says, "Egdon Heath is a fictitious heath in Hardy's Wessex, a hamlet of people who cut the furze, or gorse, that grows there."
  7. 65A. The [Star of 1950s TV's "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin"] was LEE...A. AKER? No, it's LEE AAKER. He used to be a child actor, and I feel confident that I have never encountered that name, not even in a crossword.
  8. 35D. Did you know CLONK was a word? It's a [Dull, hollow sound]. It's in the dictionary and everything.
  9. 8D. [Quark/antiquark pairs] are MESONS. All I know about MESONS is that they seem to be one of the more popular subatomic particles in crosswords.
  10. 6D. RONDE is a [Typeface imitative of handwriting]. Hey! The NFL's Ronde Barber would like a little crossword love. This RONDE, the typeface—is that a generic term for a fake-handwriting font, or a specific font?
My five favorite answers in this puzzle are these ones:
  1. 36D. HATE MAIL is an [Often-anonymous intimidation technique].
  2. 23A. [Corps veterans] are EX-MARINES.
  3. 52A. ZOOT SUITS are [Bygone party attire] from the 1940s.
  4. 91A. TOW-HEADED is another word for blond, or [Fair-haired].
  5. 74D. MAGNETIZED gets a cute clue: [Made more attractive?].
Wait, hang on a second. I just spotted a few more tricky spots I'd wanted to mention. I never remember if 69D [Pianist Jose] is ITURBI or ITURBO; it's ITURBI. His U crosses not-quite-a-real-word KUDO, or [Singular praise?] (81A). That's a mostly jocular back-formation treating kudos as a plural, which it is not. (It's from the Greek for "glory.") And then there are the two airport abbreviations clued with reference to one another. In 47A, the little cul-de-sac opposite PYE, JFK is clued as [Traveler's alternative to 90-Down]. 90D is clued as [Traveler's alternative to 47-Across], and it's LGA, the abbreviation for LaGuardia Airport.


Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "On the Road Again," adds a new CAR to each theme entry:
  • 23A. [Sign outside a cheap hotel?] might be SORRY, NO CARPETS.
  • 30A. [Comment about a kid who prefers the old "Tonight" show?] is LIKE FATHER, LIKE CARSON.
  • 52A. BIRTH OF A CARNATION is clued as [Part of a horticulture series?].
  • 68A. Tommyrot becomes TOMMY CARROT, or a hypothetical [Pint-sized pal of the Jolly Green Giant?].
  • 87A. [Little Boy Blue's girlfriend?] is LITTLE GREEN CARMEN. The CARMEN part feels a tad arbitrary, but "little green men" is a fun phrase to work from.
  • 103A. [Whom Vinny may be seeing tonight?] might be SOME FRIENDS OF CARMINE.
  • 118A. [Most popular dance instructor in Mexico?] is CARLA CUCARACHA. "La Cucaracha" is a folk corrido (song) popular during the Mexican Revolution. Is there a dance associated with it? Why isn't CARLA CUCARACHA a singer?
Toughest clues:
  • [Coconut-husk fiber] is COIR. If you've been doing crosswords for eons, you probably remember this one.
  • [Antarctica's Mt. ___] clues EREBUS, which is also the name of the primeval god of darkness in Greek Mythology. I bet there is no Mt. Helios (the sun personified) in Antarctica.
  • An INKSTONE is a [Slab that printers use to mix on].
  • [Role for Roz] is MAME. Who is Roz? This isn't Peri Gilpin's Frasier character. Rosalind Russell starred in 1958's Auntie Mame. I am way too young to think of Rosalind Russell as "Roz." Never had a thing for old movies, still don't have a thing for musicals.
  • 1-Across asks for the [Craterlike basin of a volcano]. That's a CALDERA. I knew that one, but boy, if you don't, that's a rough start to the puzzle.
  • [Otologist] clues EAR MAN, as in an ear doctor who's male. Gendered terms like that bug me.
Mike Peluso's syndicated Sunday Los Angeles Times crossword, "Separate States," finds an embedded SSR—110-Down, [Former state "separated" in seven puzzle answers: Abbr.]—in each theme answer. I learned two things from this puzzle: First, that noun phrases in which a word ending in -SS is followed by a word starting with R- tend to be dull. Second, that "separate states" isn't a phrase that has any sort of stand-alone meaning that my husband and I are aware of. I wonder if the title had been something like "Breakup of the USSR," which would be cute but violate a crossword rule because SSR is in the grid. I'd have liked to see that title and no SSR in the grid. Granted, each SSR is broken up in the theme phrases and not the USSR, but "Separate States" does nothing for me.

Overall, this crossword was quite easy. I had one of my fastest-ever times for a Sunday LAT on this one, and there was a little conversation with my family during the course of doing the puzzle. There was one word in the fill that stumped me: [Stuff, as with food] clues STODGE. My dictionary says it's a chiefly British noun and not a verb, but either way, I know "stodgy" by its American non-food meanings but haven't encountered "stodge." [Good to go] confused me briefly too—the answer is A-OKAY, and I'm not sure I've ever seen it spelled out thus.

The theme entries are as follows:
  • DRESS REHEARSAL is a [Final practice, maybe].
  • [Ornamented map symbol] is a COMPASS ROSE. I do like the look of a compass rose.
  • [Man after Manning] clues a football player serving as a PASS RUSHER. This phrase is not remotely familiar to me, but my husband cites Reggie White and others as pass rushers in football.
  • A [Postage-paid enclosure] is a BUSINESS REPLY ENVELOPE. The direct marketing folks just call it a BRC. Wait, that's a business reply card. I guess my erstwhile employer was too cheap for BRE's.
  • An ACCESS ROAD is a [Freeway neighbor].
  • The HARNESS RACE is a [Place to see sulkies]. I didn't even read this clue while solving the puzzle. The Down crossings had filled in so many letters, the answer was obvious. That's a dangerous tack to take in a tournament setting, let me tell you. You always want to make sure your theme answers fit both their clues and their crossings.
  • [It often begins with "See"] clues a CROSS REFERENCE.
Henry Hook's 6-week-old Boston Globe puzzle in Across Lite, "Hot Stuff," breaks down like this:
  1. Easy puzzle overall.
  2. Ten theme entries begin with "hot' words: FLAMEnco dance, CHARlie Sheen, SEARs Roebuck, BURNs and Allen, PARCHeesi and TORCHwood right next to each other, COOKie Monster, STEWie Griffin, and WARMonger and BRAND name beside one another. Every one of those theme entries would make for a lively answer in a themeless puzzle. They pop.
  3. A few answer words are mighty obscure. I have seen [Bowling Hall-of-Famer Billy] WELU in another puzzle or two, but I sure don't know the name from anywhere else. Two sciencey words intersect—[Tissue-related] means TELAR and the T goes in TORIC, or [Doughnut-shaped]. That reminds me—I have a glazed donut waiting for me. More obscure (to me) than WELU is PIELS, a [Beer brand since 1883]. Ah, I see why: It's a cheap beer available in the Northeast. I do not live in the Northeast. [Money of Ghana] clues CEDIS.
I wonder how many of us are doing these puzzles now. I'm sure there are many thousands who do the puzzles when they appear in the Globe, but 6 weeks later via Puzzle Pointers and Cruciverb...are there even 100 of us? I'm not sure who the blog audience is for the Globe crossword, frankly. (Big thanks to Nancy Shack, who posts the puzzles in Across Lite, and to Emily and the Henrys who permit her to. Frowny face on behalf of all those Bostonians who might like to have a blog at which they could chat about the puzzle when they're doing it and not 6 weeks later.)

Paula Gamache's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge" didn't present so much of a challenge today. Here are my favorite clues and answers:
  • The [Rum maker whose logo is a bat] is BACARDI.
  • MORDANT is a cool word. It means [Biting], as in biting, cutting, sarcastic wit.
  • Remember Pablo ESCOBAR? Nas does. His surname was a [Medellin Cartel name]. Speaking of NAS, he's here too, clued as the ["Illmatic" rapper].
  • Tom [Sawyer's buddy] is Huck FINN. I've been watching too much Lost, because I first thought of that Sawyer.
  • "LET IT ALL HANG OUT" conveys the same message as ["Don't hold back!"].
  • [Dead-tree letters] are also called SNAIL MAIL.
  • FIDGETS is a great word, isn't it? [Acts antsy] is its clue.
  • [H] is the atomic symbol for HYDROGEN.
  • One sort of [Lump in the throat] is a TONSIL.