March 04, 2009

Thursday, 3/5

NYT 4:14
3/4 CS 3:54
LAT 3:12
3/5 CS 2:56

David Kahn's New York Times crossword is running with an Iditarod theme now because the [annual March event] kicks off this Saturday: The IDITAROD TRAIL / SLED DOG RACE. Its setting is largely the ALASKAN INTERIOR, and the final theme entry ponies up some etymology: [What the Athabaskan word for the beginning of 33-Across means] is FAR DISTANT PLACE. Is that as opposed to a near distant or far near place? This 70-word grid has a low enough word count to pass for a themeless, meaning that there are plenty of longish answers in the fill. To wit:

  • RADAMES is the [Lover of Aida]. Aida gets far more face time in crosswords owing to that 4-letter name.
  • [Potent pitcherfuls] may be SANGRIAS. Make mine white, please.
  • [Gracious introduction?] is the word GOODNESS, as in "Goodness gracious." I prefer "good gravy" or good sangria.
  • ROOT CANAL is a [Big job for a driller]. You know what root canals do? They save teeth.
  • One's PEDIGREE [may be revealed by a tree]. Is this just for dogs, or people too?
  • [Fleet person] is not ENEMA MAKER or SPRINTER, but ADMIRAL.
  • The shrinking ARAL SEA is [Part of the Uzbekistan border].
  • NORA isn't a long answer, but the clue is unfamiliar to me—[Bayes who sang and co-wrote "Shine On, Harvest Moon"]. 

I haven't been doing most of the themed CrosSynergy crosswords in the last month or two—all the zingy new puzzles added to my weekly crossword diet were taking up a lot of time, so something had to give. Now that the Sun crosswords are gone (at least for now—go here to signal your interest in the Sun's return), I'll try to get back to blogging the CrosSynergy puzzles, at least on lighter days. This is Thursday's post, but I just did Wednesday's CS puzzle by Tony Orbach, "Moving Through History." The theme means almost nothing to me—I've only heard one of the three songs—but I really like the non-theme fill. The theme answers are songs "calling for movement" from 1949 (DO THE HUCKLEBUCK), 1968 (DANCE TO THE MUSIC, Sly and the Family Stone), and 1999 (Ricky Martin's SHAKE YOUR BON BON). Highlights throughout the puzzle:
  • NOXZEMA is a [Cream in a blue jar].
  • BRONX completes [The ___ Bombers (Yankees)].
  • BOTOX is one kind of [Shot taken at a party]; a PHOTO is another.
  • A [Nose, slangily] is a HONKER.
  • XM RADIO is a [Satellite-fed car option].
  • BALBOA isn't just Rocky's last name. It's also the [Panama port city named after a Spanish explorer].
  • The [44th in America] is President OBAMA.

I liked Dan Naddor's LA Times crossword a lot, but I have to dock him 20 points for scientific inaccuracy. There are six starred theme entries, each of which ends, 45-Down tells us, with an INSECT. But two of the six critters are arachnids, not insects. Despite that, I enjoyed all the sections of wide-open themeless-style space with 6- and 8-letter answers. Here are the theme answers:
  • [Veggie tray item] is a CELERY STICK. (I started with STALK here.) The TICK is an arachnid.
  • [Colossus] and BEHEMOTH are both old-sounding words for the same sort of bigness. A MOTH is indeed an insect.
  • [Not erupt for a while] is LIE DORMANT, and sometimes government agencies want to keep an eye on those dormant volcanoes because they don't all stay dormant. (Bobby Jindal, is that the best you had?) The ANT is an insect as well as the star of two separate animated features about a decade ago.
  • [Ran into at the market, say] clues MET BRIEFLY. That's not a great crossword entry, as it smacks of "random pairing of verb and adverb." There are many FLY types in the class Insecta.
  • [Sierra Nevada attraction] is YOSEMITE. I like how the pronunciation hides the bug, but a MITE is an arachnid. And now that I've written about mites, I can't help scratching an itch.
  • ["Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" playwright] is EDWARD ALBEE, hiding a BEE.
It occurs to me that these creatures have some hardcore pop-culture involvement. The superhero The Tick (star of a comic series, a TV cartoon, and a live-action TV series) had a sidekick named Arthur who was a moth. (The live-action show also had a Latino Batman type named Batmanuel, played by the actor who plays Richard on Lost. I still call him Batmanuel.) Jerry Seinfeld's animated feature, whatever that was called, was all about bees. There were two ant movies. And one of last year's subpar kids' movies involving animal space travelers featured flies (the other was Space Chimps, I think). The lowly mite demands its turn in the Hollywood spotlight—but it may have to settle for appearing in the LA Times crossword.

Assorted clues I liked: [Crude thermometer in the pool?] is your TOE. TYROLEAN means [From Innsbruck]; back in the day, my German textbook's featured teens included an Alois from Tirol. He was nerdier than the blond Hans-Peter. Why do I remember this? [Bit of pole support?] means a bit of logistical support for Santa at the North Pole—an ELF. While I liked having the longer fill, it seemed to cross a lot of iffier short stuff (e.g., RST, NTS, LARC, BCDE) so...maybe the trade-off's not worth it this time.

Randy Ross's Thursday CrosSynergy crossword hews closer to the CrosSynergy team's stated goal of Tuesdayish puzzles—Tony Orbach's was tougher, but I like that. The Ross puzzle is called "Adopt a Kitten," and that's what each theme entry does—it adopts a CAT:
  • [Newspaper plagiarist?] is a COPYCAT EDITOR, with CAT inserted into COPY EDITOR.
  • [Skunk storeroom?] is a POLECAT VAULT.
  • [Unauthorized striker's appeal for support?] is a WILDCAT PITCH. I might've liked a clue pertaining to the Northwestern University baseball or softball team.
  • [Good time of the week to solicit support from a rich campaign contributor?] is FAT CAT TUESDAY. Hey. Fat Tuesday was just last week. Too bad last Tuesday wasn't Randy Ross's CrosSynergy at-bat.
[Participant in the Camp David Accords] threw me. Five letters, that's got to be SADAT or BEGIN, right? Almost—EGYPT was Sadat's country. BALL OF WAX, clued as [Whole thing?], sounds incomplete to me without an introductory "whole," but there's reference support for the three-word phrase. Having been part of the first Sesame Street generation, my first thought for [Smiley on TV] was the Muppet Guy Smiley. It's NPR and PBS's TAVIS Smiley, though; I like him too.