March 17, 2009

Wednesday, 3/18

Onion 4:31
BEQ 3:49
LAT 3:03
NYT 2:51
CS untimed

Tuesday's puzzle had a theme centered on the 1940s to '60s. Robert Doll's Wednesday New York Times crossword doesn't have a theme that skews old, but much of the fill transported me to the crosswords of 30 years ago. The theme takes two-word phrases that begin with a GR- word and remove the initial G. If this puzzle had a title, it could be "A Case of Gout."

  • [Mystery desserts?] might be RIDDLE CAKES. I don't want any mystery in my dessert. Griddle cakes are just pancakes, aren't they?
  • [Sculler's affliction?] clues ROWING PAINS. "Growing pains" is a familiar phrase.
  • [Period of seven days without bathing?] might be a REEK WEEK. Greek Week is one of those fraternity/sorority things I've got zero personal experience with.
  • Grain alcohol becomes the verb phrase RAIN ALCOHOL, [What the sky might do in an inebriate's dream?].
  • [Illustrations for a Poe poem?] could be RAVEN IMAGES, more interesting than the original "graven images."
  • [Employment in Munchkinland?] clues RUNT WORK. I like that it's based on the lively phrase "grunt work," but perhaps the little people who found Hollywood employment in the cinematic Munchkinland would resent being called runts. (A family friend's parents were little people, and they knew a bunch of the people who were cast as Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. She would know the answer to my question.)
I thought the puzzle was mighty easy for a Wednesday NYT, but I was also struck by a preponderance of fill that used to be seen more often than it is nowadays. I've done puzzles long enough that those answers were gimmes, but I could see a lot of newer solvers getting a case of the grumbles with these:
  • [Parroting sorts] who mimic another are APERS. Has anyone ever used that word, in the plural, other than ironically? Why, yes. There's a Dutch pop-punk band by that name.
  • IPANA was [Bucky Beaver's toothpaste].
  • [Soprano Gluck] was named ALMA. She died in 1938.
  • POI, a Polynesian dish made of fermented taro root, is clued as a [Samoan staple]. Remember the '80s band Poi Dog Pondering? Too bad they didn't last. Oh, wait, their last album came out in 2008
  • Then there's EDD [Byrnes of TV's "77 Sunset Strip"]. That show was before my time (ended in '64), but Byrnes is still alive. "Recent reports cite that because of rude and unprofessional behavior toward fans, car enthusiasts, and his charging above-average rates for his autographed pictures, many car shows have banned Mr. Byrnes."
  • Does everyone involved in music know SOLI, the plural of "solo"? The clue is [Arias, e.g.], and my husband, a one-time band geek, doesn't know SOLI. I know it only from puzzles.
  • ERSE! A [Gaelic tongue] that's been a gimme since my prepubescent era.
  • [Mideast V.I.P.] is an EMIR. Always has been, in crosswords—except when the variant forms AMIR, EMEER, or AMEER have appeared.
  • ARETE! That's a [Mountain ridge], a classic old-school clue/answer combo for the ages.
  • A clue like [Sitcom with the catchphrase "Kiss my grits!"] might not have been seen much in the crosswords of the late '70s, but anyone doing the puzzle then would have known it was ALICE, starring Linda Lavin.
With [Orange feature] cluing NAVEL, my eyes started seeing NAVELs everywhere in this grid. INANE ([Cockamamie]) looks sort of like INNIE, IN-LAW ([Acquired relative]) had the first two letters, and INNER ([Word before city or child]) was also close.

Favorite clues:
  • [Thing to roll over, in brief] is an IRA, the retirement account.
  • [East ___, U.N. member since 2002] is TIMOR. Don't forget that country when you're trying to remember all the countries of Asia.
  • [Inflate, in a way] for PAD—as in padding the numbers. Or the bra, perhaps.

Ed Sessa's LA Times crossword includes a title as the last theme entry, 63-Across GOON SQUAD. Who's part of the goon squad? The punk, mug, hood, and tough at the end of these theme answers:
  • ["Blade Runner" film genre] is CYBERPUNK.
  • [Barbershop collectible] is a SHAVING MUG.
  • [Oregon volcano] clues MOUNT HOOD.
  • [Doesn't give in] is equivalent to HANGS TOUGH.
Good riff on the phrase GOON SQUAD. Did ALDO Ray play goons? For a change, a clue for ALDO gives me some information that's of interest. [Actor ___ Ray known for macho roles]? Hey! Now I know some context for Aldo Ray other than being given the title of an old movie I'll never see. Other clues:
  • [A, B or C, e.g.] clues two different answers: GRADE and VITAMIN.
  • DECATUR, the Soybean Capital of the World, is a [Central Illinois city]. There's also a Georgia town by that name.
  • [Kipper holders] are TINS. Kippers are—what are they? Some sort of oily, sardiney fish? No: split herring, cold-smoked.
  • UNO is a [Game based on crazy eights].
  • [Old TV series with a scuba-diving hero] is SEA HUNT. Lloyd Bridges, 1958-61. Again, as with ALDO, I appreciate the contextual clue.
  • [Irish pub features?] might be the Irish BROGUES heard in the conversations.
  • ISRAEL and LEBANON are clued as one another's [Mideast neighbor].

When I open a puzzle in Across Lite, usually the timer starts going automatically. I didn't notice that it sat quiescent when I opened Nancy Salomon's CrosSynergy crossword, "Space Invaders," so I have no solving time to report. Probably a smidge below 3:00, if I had to guess. The theme hinges on calling sentient entities (...not quite anagrams, those two words) from outer space ALIENs, CREATUREs, and BEINGs:
  • [Colonization by a space invader?] might be termed ALIEN IMMIGRATION. That phrase exists, but I don't see a purpose for it. If someone is said to be immigrating into a country, isn't their alien status assumed? ALIEN IMMIGRATION sounds redundant, and the phrase should be reserved for the new immigration agencies that would be needed if and when space aliens start applying for green cards.
  • [Amenities on a space invader's craft?] are CREATURE COMFORTS.
  • [Sane space invader?] converts BEING from a verb to a noun in BEING OF SOUND MIND. I suspect this was the germ for the theme.
As with the Doll NYT puzzle, some of this crossword had a retro feel. The trusty old ADITS are [Mine entrances]. There's a mineral/rock store called Open Adit; the site takes pains to provide a definition for the term. ADIT used to show up in many more crosswords than it does these days. STYE, or [Eyelid ailment] was in plenty of old crosswords, and alas, it is still in plenty of current crosswords. ESSO often gets clued as an outdated or non-U.S. brand, but here it's the [Tiger-in-your-tank brand], no hint of anachronism; the phrase still bubbles up in various ways. [Supreme Diana] and [Karl of "The Streets of San Francisco] appear one after the other, as 42- and 43-Down; Ms. ROSS left the Supremes in 1970 and KARL's show aired from 1972 to '77. [South Yemen port] is ADEN; this is one of those ageless crossword answers that I've known forever and will probably see in the last crossword I do in the old-age home some decades hence. The bottom row dispenses three more classic crossword answers: EPEE, a [Fencer's blade], along with ERTES, or [Some Art Deco pieces], and ESSEN, a [City on the Ruhr].

The quartet of 9-letter answers in the fill are good. TAILGATED means [Followed too closely on the highway]. LET IT SNOW is [One third of a winter refrain]. ORATORIOS are [Handel's "Messiah," et al.]. And the PAST TENSE is clued with [History is written in it]. I also like SKEETERS, or [Bloodsuckers, colloquially]. Did you know that South Africans and Australians and their ilk call mosquitoes "mozzies"?

This week's Onion A.V. Club crossword was constructed by Ben Tausig. The theme entries take words that end with a Z sound and change the pronunciation to an S sound, forcing a variety of spelling changes. The new phrases are clued with question marks:
  • [Note from a Zamboni salesman who doesn't want his client to share?] is FOR YOUR ICE ONLY. This plays on "for your eyes only." You can hear a European with rough English skills pronouncing "eyes" as "ice," can't you?
  • [Result of competition between retailers?] might be a PRICE FIGHT. Prize fights are boxing things.
  • A wisecrack becomes WEISS CRACK, or [Joke made by 1988 A.L. Rookie of the year Walt?]. Wow, I've never heard of Walt Weiss. There aren't many famous Weisses to choose from, though. Houdini's birth name was Ehrich Weiss, and the guy who played Jarod The Pretender is Michael T. Weiss. Slim pickings.
  • DROP LIKE FLEISS is clued [Give head using pointers from Maxim's "Ask Heidi" column?].
The theme idea's a good one, but I only liked the first two entries. Here are 10 other clues and answers:
  1. [Saint Basil's feature] is the ONION DOME atop a Russian church.
  2. ["The 39 Steps" actress Tania] ELG is...not famous.
  3. SILICA gel is the [Stuff in those packets you're not supposed to eat]. It's a desiccant to remove moisture in a shoebox or other manufacturer packaging.
  4. [Butterfly, abroad] is the Spanish word MARIPOSA.
  5. MISTER BIG is clued as the ["To Be With You" rock band]. The band spells it Mr. Big.
  6. The clue for UMASS is ["It's educational," sing the Pixies].
  7. VENOM is [Something to spew].
  8. [Get something out of your system?] clues DETOXIFY. See also OD'S, or [Has too much fun, in a way].
  9. [Raised, as the dead] was one of the last things I got, thanks to Tania ELG. It's DUG UP. Ewww.
  10. A SINE wave is a [Wave that can't be ridden].
Pop culture rules the day in Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Hand Jive: Five songs to help you get a grip." Brendan used a book of lists about music as the seed for this puzzle, with five song titles that fit into symmetrical spots of the grid and are all about masturbation:
  • [1991 hit by the Divinyls best enjoyed alone?] is I TOUCH MYSELF. Here's the video—it ain't subtle.
  • [1980 hit by the Vapors best enjoyed alone?] is TURNING JAPANESE. My best friend in junior high told me she thought this song was by the Beatles. She was stunned when I told her they'd broken up. Here's a 1980 performance clip.
  • [1981 hit by Billy Squier best enjoyed alone?] is THE STROKE. Ah, what a classic video. Tight jeans, a sleeveless crop top, and mesmerizingly weird dancing: Enjoy.
  • [1982 single by Violent Femmes best enjoyed alone?] is BLISTER IN THE SUN. Man, I loved that whole album. That was a freshman-year-of-college discovery for me. Here's a concert version of the song.
  • [1977 single by Buzzcocks best enjoyed alone?] is ORGASM ADDICT. I don't know this song at all as I've never been much into punk, but the crossings pointed the way to a plausible word pairing. Here's a concert video.
The rest of the puzzle has some good stuff—there's a small corner with GAWKS and RITZY stuffed into it. There are longish answers like GIRL TALK and HAT TRICK, BY CHANCE and SO SORRY. And two corners with three-abreast 7-letter answers, marred only by the inclusion of the woeful ENSTEEL, or [Strengthen]. Wait, is that word thematic (for the theme entries other than the Divinyls song)?