April 24, 2009

Saturday, 4/25

Newsday 15:32
NYT 7:03
LAT 4:09
CS 2:52

Photo from last weekend's Marbles Amateur Crossword Tournament. From left, J. from Marbles; 2nd place winner Ben Bass; 1st place winner Anne Erdmann; 3rd place winner Jonathon Brown; Amy Reynaldo; Bob Petitto; Lindsay Gaskins from Marbles.

Brad Wilber's New York Times crossword

Aside from two 3-letter answers, there's nothing in this puzzle that's of questionable value. Smooth fill, lots of interesting phrases, several surprising entries, some intellectual trivia, tricky clues—what's not to like? It's even targeted right at the tough-but-not-too-tough Saturday difficulty level.

My favorite parts:

  • [They have big bells] clues TUBAS. My nephew plays tuba in the marching band. Apparently he has mad tuba skillz for a ninth grader.
  • RON HOWARD was named the [Best Director of 2001]. Also in the full-name category: FRED EBB of Kander & Ebb fame, the ["New York, New York" lyricist].
  • [Setting of Queen Beatrix Airport] is ARUBA. Not the HAGUE. Nope. Don't try that. Speaking of queens, NIOBE is the [Queen for whom an element is named]—niobium. Does this element weep a lot?
  • [Fond of] and KEEN ON are both lovely phrases.
  • WASHBOARD ABS! What a great answer to pop up in a crossword. The clue, [Desirable trunk feature], kept me wondering for a good long while.
  • THE LAST METRO is the [1980 Truffaut film that won 10 Cesar awards].
  • What's PEBBLY? That texture is [Like avocado skins].
  • [Stars play in it: Abbr.] clues the NHL.
  • HENRY VIII was the [Act of Supremacy institutor]. This answer clashes with WASHBOARD ABS—but you can help whittle away the fat in your midsection by going to STEP CLASS, a [Health club offering for aerobic workouts].
  • "DROP IT," uttered sharply, is a [Discussion ender].
  • I had the W in [Tony] so I went from specific to general: AWARD. No...how about SWELL? That worked for a while, but eventually SWANK nudged its way to the fore.
  • BUNDT PAN is a [Thing with a sweet ring to it?].
  • [Wear for Peppermint Patty] is her sensible SANDALS.
  • [Shuttle destination] isn't about space travel or weaving looms—it's the HOTEL the airport shuttle takes you to.
  • [Like many clerics] clues CELIBATE.
  • THE PITS, which are [Something dreadful], are also ODIOUS, or [Repellent].
  • The two 3's I didn't much care for are ERI, clued as [European conductor ___ Klas]—hey! That's a crosswordese silkworm, not a person—and IHS, or [Christian trigram].
  • MAE WEST [said "I'll try anything once, twice if I like it, three times to make sure"].
  • LA NINA is a [Cause of a dry spell in the Midwest].
  • I like the gentle mislead of [Hinges]. If your decision hinges on something, it RELIES on it.
Tough stuff, arcane facts, names, and so forth:
  • Stop snickering—it's just a valve. [Runs through a petcock, e.g.] clues DRAINS OFF.
  • [City founded furing the Cherokee Strip land run]—hmm, 4 letters, Cherokee points towards Oklahoma, must be ENID.
  • SCIPIO [crushed Hannibal at Zama]. Am I the only one who pictures C-3PO when they see the name SCIPIO?
  • Leonhard EULER ("oiler") was the [Introducer of the math symbol "e"]. Wait, does that stand for Euler? Is this an ego eponym thing?
  • [City east of Saint Lawrence Island] is NOME. 
  • FDR was the [Most famous resident of Warm Spr., Ga.]. He was not at all on my short list of candidate answers. He built a Little White House there, hoping to improve his polio/paralysis.
  • [Orenburg is on it] doesn't sound Russian, but the answer is the URAL River. Who knew?
  • MOZART's ["The Impresario" composer]? Not familiar with that work.
  • EL CID gets plenty of play in crosswords, but not as the [Battle of Cabra victor, 1079].
  • VAL [___-de-Marne, France]? Not so familiar.
Updated Saturday morning:

Barry Silk's L.A. Times crossword

Barry Silk, constructor of Friday's NYT puzzle, is back with today's L.A. Times puzzle. I blogged it in a fugue state late last night at L.A. Crossword Confidential. I liked the puzzle, I did, but I kept falling asleep while blogging about it. Blogging is hard work, y'all!

What I liked best in this puzzle was the zig-zag of WHIZBANG to GREAT WHITE SHARK to KATE MOSS. Isn't that a whizbang procession?

Good ol' ANIL shows up, but with a botanical clue I haven't seen before—[Shrub of the genus Indigofera]. There's the OXLIP [Plant in the primrose family]. Moving from plants to birds, we have AVI, or [Prefix with fauna]; MYNAHS, or [Winged mimics];; and a WATTLE, or [Turkey appendage]. Moving from biology to physics, we see ROCKETRY, or [Space science], and a RECEIVER, or [Listening device]. Head down the hall to the place where chemistry class and auto shop collide, and you'll learn a few more things: HEXANE is a [Hydrocarbon obtained from petroleum], the antifreeze ZEREX is a [Prestone competitor], and the tire company UNIROYAL [merged with Goodrich in 1986.

ICE FOG is not something I've ever encountered, but I like its clue: [Weather phenomenon also known as pogonip]. The word pogonip comes from a Shoshone word, and it's fun to say. Do yourself a favor and read the Wikipedia entry. They say that in Siberia, a person walking through ice fog clears out a body-shaped tunnel, so you can play a game of guessing whose tunnel you're looking at based on its size and shape.

Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"

I wonder if Newsday and the other papers that carry its puzzle have been getting letters of complaint lately about the Saturday puzzles. Not only is there the whiplash from six days of easier-than-the-NYT puzzles to a tough themeless, but lately the Stumpers have been markedly more difficult (from my perspective). Woe to the less adept solver who blithely picks up the Saturday puzzle, thinking it's the same sort of challenge as the Tuesday puzzle!

The top of this one killed me. (Solution here.) I even Googled INNES, the ["Wreck of the Mary Deare" author], but that didn't help too much. Might I kvetch here about the INNES clue? Yes, it is factual. But English classes and bookstores don't tend to focus on Hammond INNES, do they? (Actress Laura Innes is better known on the Google front.) Sure, that book was made into a movie with Gary Cooper...who died several years before I was born. A thriller that won no awards, based on a novel by a genre writer of no great distinction? Feh. You can learn something by Googling all this, but it sure is boring. More trivia clues:
  • FALA was a [Dog first called Big Boy]. I'm feeling several decades too young to appreciate this clue.
  • [Tom Thumb, notably] was the name of a STEAM LOCOMOTIVE. Old train trivia is not my cup of tea.
  • TEEPEE is clued [Literally, "they dwell"]. Fairly obscure trivia, but I do like etymology clues.
  • YELLOWSTONE PARK [got 3 million+ visitors in 2007]. You know...I had the PARK part and the rest of it felt like an arbitrary search for a park name of the right length.
  • [Brits call it "vanilla slice"] clues NAPOLEON. Fairly useless trivia, but trivia about baked desserts—and I like dessert.
  • GIL is the ["Drums Along the Mohawk" hero]. I doubt anyone who hasn't read the '36 book or seen the '39 movie will have any idea of this. Nor will they care in the slightest.
NAPSTER is a [Best Buy buy] not because you can buy Napster at Best Buy but rather because Best Buy purchased the Napster company in 2008. Other tech answers include DSL, or [High-speed initials], and WIFI, a [Cafe offering].

Tough clues I didn't find so irksome:
  • The BAHAMAS are [Home of the $3 bill].
  • The PINOT grape is a [Source of red or white].
  • [Sandpiper cousin] is a CURLEW. I love that word.
  • [Tree huggers, perhaps] are VINES.
  • Ivan LENDL of tennis is the ["Hitting hot" practitioner]. Tennis was more entertaining when Lendl was playing.
  • [Collie charge] is EWE. A collie who's herding sheep takes care of its charges, who may include ewes, rams, and lambs.
  • [Ill-fated TV vehicle] isn't using "vehicle" to mean "show." The answer is a transportation vehicle, the S.S. MINNOW of Gilligan's Island. With the first S and the OW at the end, I put in the old news show SEE IT NOW. That didn't help my solving time one bit.
  • [Collagen product] sounds like it's going to be obscure, but your TENDONs are made of collagen.
  • [One of a Luxembourg dozen] is a CANTON. I associate cantons with Switzerland mainly.
These ones weren't so hard for me and I liked 'em:
  • [Salsa specification] is CALIENTE.
  • [2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee] is RUN-D.M.C.
  • [Swimmer with barbels] is a CATFISH. The whiskery things are called barbels.
Now, Newsday team: Can we go back to Doug Peterson puzzles that are like his NYT and LAT puzzles? Maybe 20% harder than those, not 100% harder?

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Let Me Add...Um...To That"

Well, the title describes what goes on in the theme entries, but it doesn't sound natural at all.

My favorite theme answer is SENIOR MOMENTUM, or [AARP movement?]. Hartman takes a lively phrase, tacks on an UM, and creates a workable clue. I'm less fond of the other theme entries, particularly RED BARNUM. We don't precede a person's name with RED to indicate that they're embarrassed, and "red barn" feels a bit like "silver car"—yes, red barns are more common than other colors, but... And then there's COUNTRY DECORUM ([Etiquette while traveling abroad?]. Wait, a red barn and country decor? Too much! I am an urbanite. The ACHE FORUM ([Chat room for hypochondriacs?]) is okay.

There's lots of cool fill—W.C. Fields' The BANK DICK, the BIG EASY, RAY KROC, THE MAN, NO PROB, and that GOOSE EGG with three sets of double letters.