March 25, 2009

Thursday, 3/26

NYT 4:33
LAT 3:57
CS 2:56
Tausig (not timed, but it's a toughie)

I'm a little off-kilter on the days of the week here, and I felt like it was time for a Wednesday puzzle. When you're expecting Wednesday difficulty and you walk into a Thursday puzzle with a quote theme, you're going to feel a tad battered afterwards. In Edward Safran's New York Times crossword, the theme entries lay out the [Start of a poem by Emily Dickinson that continues "But God be with the Clown, / Who ponders this tremendous scene"]. I may have been an English major, but I never got into Dickinson. The poem excerpted here reads A LITTLE MADNESS / IN THE SPRING / IS WHOLESOME / EVEN FOR THE KING. Given my unfamiliarity with Dickinson's oeuvre, this was a slog through the Down answers. Bonus points for timeliness—this is the first Thursday after the vernal equinox—but extra demerits for having a quote theme in the first place. I can abide a quip theme with a good punchline, but this one isn't moving me.

All right, what else is in the puzzle? Plenty of tough clues:

  • [Dimwit, in Yiddish slang] is GOLEM? I know of the golem as a clay figure brought to life or the more modern definition of a robot, but dimwit isn't ringing a bell for me. Is there a Yiddish expert in the house? (Zulema?)
  • [International company with the slogan "Home away from home"] is the Israeli airline EL AL. Hey, nice slogan. Our other travel corporation is AVIS, named after the [Warren who founded a rental car company].
  • [A la ___ (nearby: Sp.)] is MANO. Must be the Spanish version of "Close at hand."
  • LEN [Barker of the Cleveland Indians who pitched a perfect game in 1981]. Wow, that is not a LEN I have heard of.
  • [Refuge for David, in the Bible] is the DEAD SEA. Crosswords without Bible clues are my refuge.
  • [Former Nebraska senator James] EXON is another person whose name was completely unknown to me.
  • [Sleep disturbers] are ALARMS. Sure, that's not so tough—unless you opt for SNORES instead.
  • [Queen of Bollywood] clues the general word for a Hindu queen, RANI. I'm not quite sure why Bollywood is in the clue.
  • [Shipping mainstay of the 1600s] is the ship called a GALLEON.
  • [Double ___]...boy, I can't tell you how long I couldn't see the ENTENDRE fighting to get into those squares.
  • [South American monkey] is TITI, and [Monkeyshine] is an ANTIC. I think all crosswords should have two monkey clues, don't you?
  • [Divine water] is the verb DOWSE.
  • [They have no ties] clues LOAFERS, which are slip-on shoes. Tricky clue, since there are plenty of other things that have no ties.
Places! There's no Erie or Ojai today, but two other 4-letter cities get their due. ORAN, Algeria, is the [North African city captured by the Allies in 1942]. NOME, Alaska, was an [1899 gold rush locale].

What I liked best in this puzzle were these entries:
  • CELADON is [Chinese porcelain with a pale green glaze]. So pretty!
  • [1977 best seller set at Boston Memorial Hospital[ is Michael Crichton's COMA. Hey, I read that when I was in junior high. It creeped me out.
  • [Physician William] OSLER was a seminal figure in North American medicine, but I'd never heard of him before I worked at a medical publisher. He had a waggish streak, as seen in this hoax he perpetrated.
  • SHAKES UP looks great in the grid. It's clued as [Reorganizes drastically].

Bonnie Gentry's L.A. Times crossword is pretty gutsy, isn't it? The theme entries all begin with synonyms of "gutsy":
  • 21A. The NERVE CENTER is the [Operational headquarters].
  • 26A. BRASS NAMEPLATE is a [Classy office door adornment]. Mine was plastic.
  • 46A. [2006 political best-seller, with "The"] is Barack Obama's AUDACITY OF HOPE.
  • 52A. [Beside one another] clues the phrase CHEEK BY JOWL.
Perfect theme, if you ask me. Used in other settings, the words are all completely unrelated, so there's a good "aha" moment when the unifying meaning clicks.
A few noteworthy words in the rest of the puzzle:
  • The TOM COLLINS is a [Gin cocktail]. I ordained this as my new signature drink at the ACPT, but then the migraine whomped me and I'm afraid to ever order another. Refreshing taste, but maybe gin has too many aromatics for my delicate composition. Headaches aside, it makes for a killer crossword answer.
  • 30D's clue is [Punish with a fine]. I know the word AMERCE, but this one was only 5 letters. Is MERCE a word? Not so much. But MULCT is. The M and T are in theme answers and the L is in the lovely CELLIST (fantastic clue with a mislead—Yo-Yo [Ma, for one]), and there aren't many options besides MULCT for M*L*T. The crossings were fine, as long as you know that Creedence Clearwater Revival, or CCR, is the ["Proud Mary" band, for short].
  • We've all heard of Tel Aviv, sure. But [Tel ___- Yafo] didn't scream AVIV to me. Apparently the Yafo part is the same as Jaffa.
Don't turn to today's New York Times or Washington Post to solve Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Newspaper Columnists"—the columnists in question were all published in the past. ART BUCHWALD, the [Writer of the column "Paris After Dark"], died in 2007. He spent about a year in hospice care rather than receiving dialysis, and it sounds like he had a pretty decent final year, all things considered.

DAMON RUNYON was before my time, but everyone should recognize his name still. He was the [Writer of the column "The Brighter Side"]. Did you see the recent New Yorker article about his writing style? Good read.

The other two theme entries are newspaper columnists of yore—way yore. EUGENE FIELD, [Writer of the column "Sharps and Flats"], died in 1895. I don't recognize the name. And DREW PEARSON, [Writer of the column "Washington Merry-Go-Round"], died when I was 3. Apparently his column sent four Congressmen to jail, and Pearson spoke out against Joseph McCarthy's demagoguery. Good guy, eh?

So the theme clues didn't point me towards any answers (I didn't recognize the title of Buchwald's column), and when the puzzle was done, I had two unfamiliar names in it. Does that sound like an unsatisfying solve? It wasn't. I'm glad for the opportunity to read up on these journalists.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Bad Strokes," spotlights some bad keystrokes. In this puzzle, the theme is TYPOS (49A: [Things of which there are ten in the Across clues, and ten in the Downs]. How are those TYPOS made? [How the constructor's finger moved, on a keyboard, to create this puzzle's 49-Across] was ONE TO THE RIGHT. Ah, adjacent-key typos! Here, at last, is your moment in the sun!

When I test-solved this puzzle, it took me forever to track down the 20 clues with typos. Some were obvious while solving because the clue made no sense, and some were harder to identify immediately. 35A [Nebraska city famous for steals] is about OMAHA Steaks. The DEN is a [Place to lick back] (eww!), or really, a place to kick back. Here are the TYPOS:
  • 1A. "Ununformed" should be uninformed. I HAVE NO IDEA.
  • 20A. "Vase" should be case. LAWYER.
  • 30A. "Shoe" is show. OOHS.
  • 35A. "Steals" is steaks. OMAHA.
  • 56A. Read "Rum" as Run. The letters EFG.
  • 59A. "Hoof" should be Hood. NIA.
  • 62A. "Fishes" are dishes. It took me a long time to realize this clue wasn't really about "oily fishes." SCOURING PAD.
  • 69A. "Old Tome" is old Rome. MLI.
  • 71A. "Deer's" should be Seer's. ESP.
  • 72A. Change those "deaf people" to dead people. ESTATE SALES.
  • 2D. No, raves do not now include potato sack races. "Raves" is a typo for races. HOP.
  • 6D. "Layer..." is "Later..." NOT NOW!
  • 9D. "Lick" is kick. DEN.
  • 13D. "Joy down" is jot down, or MAKE A NOTE OF.
  • 23D. [Hay people, more formally] was one of my favorite clues, because it kept me confused the longest. Change "Hay" to Gay and you get HOMOSEXUALS.
  • 26D. "Test" should be rest. Wow, there's no hint at all that this one-word clue's got a typo, because it makes perfect sense as is. SHUT-EYE.
  • 53D. Change "dense" to sense. TASTE.
  • 58D. [Old TB hookups] are old TV hookups, or VCRS.
  • 63D. Change "grads" to grass. OAT.
  • 66D. "Post-pink" is really post-punk. PIL.
I like crosswords that bend the usual paradigm and give me another way to challenge my brain. Imagine how hard this puzzle would've been without the TYPOS and ONE TO THE RIGHT answers explaining how the theme works! We might've all thought we were losing our minds for a while.

One hundred bonus points to Ben for including the [Catchphrase spawned by Christopher Walken in "SNL"], MORE COWBELL. Have any of you heard of PHANTOM SHIP as a [Bela Lugosi maritime murder mystery]? I sure hadn't.