March 11, 2009

Thursday, 3/12

NYT 5:11
LAT 3:12
CS 2:56

I just remembered Wednesday evening that I hadn't started blogging about the ACPT crosswords. If you did the ACPT puzzles already or if you're not opposed to spoilers, scroll down for the puzzle #1 post.

Today's New York Times crossword has an unfamiliar byline: David Chapus. This may well be a debut, and it's a doozy. The folks who complained that Caleb Madison's Wednesday puzzle felt Thursdayish should have suspected that Thursday's puzzle would go beyond Thursday-level difficulty. The theme involves a rebus gimmick. The PED XING sign at 39-Across is a hint to the theme, which is PED squeezed into a single square—a crossing (XING) between Across and Down, naturally—in each of the four quadrants:

  • 17A [Classic Cadillacs] are COU[PE D]E VILLES. That had been my first thought, but since there weren't enough squares for the full spelling, I moved on to other sections. This PED square also appears in 4D [Hastens], or EX[PED]ITES. Isn't the Coupe de Ville a cool thing to see in a crossword grid?
  • 11D is SHAR[P-ED]GED, [Like a saber]. It crosses 25A [Passed quickly], or S[PED] BY.
  • 38D [Features of many Olympic broadcasts] are TA[PE D]ELAYS. 44A [Like humans and ostriches] clues BI]PED]AL.
  • 60D [Batman, with "The"] clues another stellar answer, CA[PED] CRUSADER. 53D [Prepared, as a report] is TY[PED] UP.
The rebus squares didn't land in exactly symmetrical spots, but the longer answers in the rebus pairs are placed symmetrically. This being a Thursday with a Fridayish vibe, there are plenty of interesting and/or challenging clues, and I liked 'em:
  • [Results of some oil deposits] means—ick alert!—ACNE.
  • Plain old [X] clues CANCEL.
  • The verb COAX is passed over in lieu of a shortened form of "coaxial," clued as [Certain cable, informally]. That O was one of the last letters I filled in—COOP UP, or [Confine], isn't a common crossword answer.
  • [Provincial capital in NW Spain] is the ever-popular OVIEDO (popular on account of being two-thirds vowels).
  • I've never seen EPEE clued as an [Item of sports equipment approximately 43" long]. Anyone else contemplating wood and iron golf clubs here?
  • MAGOO gets a cartoon trivia clue: ["Mr." whose first name is Quincy].
  • SALTINES are a [Chili accompaniment, often]. They use oyster crackers at Chili Mac's 5-Way Chili, my favorite chili joint.
  • The Spanish article UNA is clued ["Por ___ Cabeza" (tango song)]. Does that mean "For a Head"?
  • ODIN is a [One-eyed god of myth].
  • The French abbreviation STE. (Sainte) completes [Paris's Rue ___ Croix de la Bretonnerie: Abbr.]. "Saint Cross of the Bretons Street"? There's more French with NAUSEE, a [Sartre novel, with "La"].
  • THIN AIR is indeed a [Mountain climbing hazard], as attested in the book Into Thin Air.
  • [Earthen pots for liquids] are—say what? CRUSES? I don't think I've ever encountered this word, not in three decades of puzzling. Dictionary tells me the singular is cruse, and it's an archaic word meaning "an earthenware pot or jar." Live and learn.
  • Corporate trivia! Rental car company AVIS is a [Company started in 1946 at the Detroit and Miami airports].
  • ASHEBORO is a [North Carolina county seat]. Randolph County, in case you were curious.
  • [Companion of Panza] isn't quite so obvious without the first name Sancho—it's Don QUIXOTE.
  • Who knew there was a [British fighter plane] called the TORNADO?
  • [Frank who wrote "The Pit," 1903] is NORRIS.
  • [Turn-of-the-century year in King John's reign] is MCCI, or 1201. I was tempted by 1102, or MCII, which would have made the mystery CRUSES into IRUSES. But somehow, King John and the 1200s sounded faintly familiar.
  • SKI is [What people who head for the hills do?]. RUN and LAM may have enticed some folks.
Wasn't this a good take on the rebus concept, what with the unifying entry PED XING serving as the impetus for the whole enterprise?


I had no idea where Donna Hoke Kahwaty's LA Times crossword was heading with its theme until I made my way down to 57-Across, [Noodles, and a word that can precede the beginning of 17-, 28-, or 43-Across]—SPAGHETTI. Well! SPAGHETTI is a far more interesting word to partner up with other words than what we usually see in such themes. A typical "word that can precede/follow ___" theme centers on a common noun, like WATER or EYE. SPAGHETTI is a cool choice because there aren't a zillion "spaghetti ___" phrases in the language (excluding the many options that might be found on trattoria menus). The New Oxford American Dictionary lists only Kahwaty's three phrases, along with spaghetti bolognese, so the theme is tight. (The constructor's job is easier in a "water ___" puzzle, as there's a much longer list of theme entry candidates to choose from.) Here are the three:
  • To [Commute, stereotypically] is to STRAP-HANG. Spaghetti straps are found on assorted women's apparel items.
  • SQUASH COURTS are [Four-walled play areas]. Spaghetti squash is a vegetable with stringy innards.
  • WESTERN UNION was a [19th century communications pioneer] in telegraphy. A spaghetti Western is a movie Western produced and directed by Italians.
This puzzle's also noteworthy for having four 9-letter answers in the fill. A [Gourmet] is an EPICUREAN. [Like a couch potato] means SEDENTARY. GREEN PEAS are [Stew ingredients]. And RORSCHACH is a [Personality test creator] as well as a Watchmen character. The toughest clue for me was [One of the Papas]—I first thought of Irene Papas, which was a wrong turn, and then struggled to remember who was in The Mamas and the Papas besides the Mamas. DENNY Doherty, along with John Williams (and Mama Cass Elliot and Michelle Williams). I also paused at [Search and rescue org.]—that's the USCG, or U.S. Coast Guard.

Between the surprise of learning that SPAGHETTI phrases were the main dish and the interlocked long answers in the fill, I'm putting this puzzle in contention for the year's best mid-week puzzle.

Speaking of that, Michael Sharp (a.k.a. Rex Parker) suggested this morning that we add a "best debut" category to the year-end Oryx awards, and David Chapus's NYT rebus puzzle is in the running there.

Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy crossword, "Vision Quest," has three theme entries that end with "vision" words:
  • THE PARALLAX VIEW was a [1974 movie about a political conspiracy].
  • [Definitely out of the question] is synonymous with the idiomatic NOT BY A LONG SIGHT.
  • [Quick peek] is a FLEETING GLIMPSE.
In the fill, TAPIR is clued as a [Belize beast with a prominent snout]. I must take this opportunity to warn you: if a tapir has its back end to you, stay back because its pee can travel a good 10 feet or more. We found this out the hard way at the Chester Zoo in England. MALARKEY is a great word, and it's clued as [Bunkum]. In the '70s, the [TV cop with a Tootsie Pop] was Theo KOJAK, played by bald Telly Savalas. Great clue for THOU: [Intro to art?].