May 28, 2009

Friday, 5/29

BEQ 6:46
NYT 6:12
LAT 5:12
CHE 4:37
CS 14:18 (J—paper)/4:36 (A—Across Lite)
Tausig untimed
WSJ 8:30

Randolph Ross's New York Times crossword

The applet timer read 5:39 when I went to click "done!" and wouldn't you know it? Typo! No, [From this moment on] doesn't mean ANYLLNGER, it means ANY LONGER. Figures the typo was in the bottom row when I started scanning my answers at the top. That ANY LONGER—that goes with the negative, right? "I'm not doing that any longer?" I like "anymore" to stay in the negative too, but people've been using that non-negatively of late.

This 66-worder has some killer answers, some surprises, and a handful of entries with word endings that stretch things a bit (though truthfully, I didn't mind SPARERS and SLATING today). There are also several apt pairings:

  • 12D. [With 20-Down, kiddie-lit counterpart of Sherlock Holmes] is NATE / THE GREAT. I'm a hair too old to have read this when I was a kid, and now my son's a little too old to read the Nate books, if Amazon's age 4-8 range is to be believed.
  • 16A. [Equal, essentially] is ASPARTAME, an ARTIFICIAL ([Like 16-Across]) sweetener.
  • 39A. [Kennel clamor] is a bunch of WOOFING dogs. I don't know why 31A. DOG'S AGE is a [Long while]—dogs have much shorter lifespans than people.
  • 26A. Herb CAEN is the San Francisco [Columnist who wrote "Don't Call It Frisco," 1953], and Frisco is where the GOLDEN GATE is. I'll dispute that it's a [Sir Francis Drake discovery of 1579]—first, because the area had been inhabited by the Ohlone before the Europeans' arrival, and second, because that Wikipedia article goes to the trouble of saying that Drake didn't find it. Any locals know the deal?
One answer I got strictly through its crossings surprised me when I saw it in the finished grid. Another EERO: 14D [Finnish pentathlete Lehtonen]. Hey, we need all the famous EEROs we can get. Among my favorite answers and clues were these:
  • 1A. [Place holder?] is a DIGIT. I get to practice my tens place and my hundredths place thanks to my son's homework.
  • 6A. ["Lost" category] looks like it's about the TV show, but it's actually about the word "lost"—it's in the PAST TENSE. Brilliant clue! Kudos to Randy or Will or whoever came up with that one.
  • 18A. Corporate trivia: RCA VICTOR was the [Introducer of 45's in '49].
  • 26A. [Middle of the British Isles?] is CENTRE spelled the un-American way.
  • 33A. SALERNO was an [Allied landing site of September 1943], but I like it because of my nostalgia for Salerno butter cookies, wearable as rings. This may be a local thing.
  • 44A. [Some are blank]...hmm, can't very well be SLATES when it crosses SLATING. Blank STARES are good.
  • 52A. HENRY VIII is a great entry. The clue, [Charlton Heston's "The Prince and the Pauper" role], was of no help to me here.
  • 1D. Another terrific answer is DEAR OLD DAD, clued with [Pops]. I wonder if anyone was lured by the ASPARTAME into putting DIETPEPSIS here.
  • 24A. The Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans has an impressive SEAHORSE collection. I don't recall learning there that the seahorse is [Cousin of a stickleback], but seahorses are insanely cool creatures.
  • 27A. [One that's stalked] is a LEAF. This reminds me of the lame "make like a tree and leave" line. "Make like a leaf and be stalked"?
Then there are these three clues, which were not gimmes for me. I wonder how many solvers will have been stumped by these:
  • 35A. [Derby dry-goods dealer] is a DRAPER. Thank you for sticking with an old-fashioned noun instead of going with the Mad Men character. I have thus far had zero interest in watching that show.
  • 9D. TAV is [Torah's beginning?]. That's a letter in the Hebrew alphabet and not one of the ones found on the dreidel.
  • 49D. We dodged a bullet here. Imagine if the clue and answer rivers had been swapped. The URAL is familiar crosswordese, but [The Ilek is one of its tributaries] rings no bell for me. [Ural tributary] for ILEK would just be mean.

Updated Friday morning:

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy Puzzle, "Mixed Green Salad"—Janie's review

Anyone who solves cryptic puzzles can tell you: the word "mixed" in the clue is the tip-off that the solution involves an anagram. And the "mixed" in the title of today's puzzle is no exception. Take the ten letters of "GREEN SALAD," toss 'em up and whaddaya get?
  • NAG DEALERS, [Old horse traders] 17A. An "old horse" is a NAG—as in "bet my money on the bob-tail NAG"...
  • SAGE LANDER, [One dispatching wise guys to the moon?], 10D. I hate to admit how much time I spent on this one (uh—see above...), but that's because I attempted to complete it before I was aware of the anagram angle. My thoughts were more along the lines of getting the 12 letters of RALPH KRAMDEN to fit into the 10-square allotment. Anyone else? When I finally did know what was required, and entered SAGE (for those "wise guys"), it still took me a while to understand this one. It feels like the most forced of the otherwise natural-sounding theme fill.
  • SAD GENERAL, [Lee at Appomattox?] 28D. See what I mean? This one doesn't take nearly as much parsing to make sense of.
  • LEA DANGERS, [Cow cookies, meadow muffins and pasture patties?], 54A. The best. If you need a clearer picture, then here 'tis...

Not only do we get this anagram quartet, we also get the centrally-located and unifying ANAGRAM, [What each of this grid's ten-letter entries is] at 38A.

And to balance the word-playful theme fill, there're two 9-letter major puzzle debuts: the perfectly idiomatic I'M ON TO YOU ["You can't fool me, buster!"] and the precise CLOCKED IN [Began the shift]. TEND BAR, B-MOVIE (in a CS debut), THE RAVEN, BOGUS, HOYLE, YAYAS—all of these add to the overall quality of the fill.

Then, there a couple of "mini-theme" clusters: PUMA, (CS first) SHE-BEARS and KOALA are all mammals. (And how about the cunning way that last one is clued—[Fetching furry folivore]. "Folivore"?! Well, of course—foliage eater!) The other little grouping includes A-BOMB, NUKE and ACID—all explosive (in their own way) and all of which can be "dropped."

Before taking a look at a few of the many-splendored clues, here's one grid-bit: the happy crossing of SHEBA with SHE-BEARS.

And now, to focus on some of those quintessentially-Klahn clues:
  • [Little scrap] SPAT, followed by [A little lamb?] CHOP
  • [Peak piled on Pelion] OSSA
  • [Partner of Lewis or Lois] CLARK
  • [High on the hwy.] DWI. This one took me a while...part of the 11D debacle...
  • [Mason mysteries monogram] ESG (for Erle Stanley Gardner)
  • [Where you can hear pins drop] ALLEY (love this combo)
  • [One-time science mag] OMNI, followed by [One-time flight attendant, in slang] STEW
  • [Ketchikan canoe] KAYAK
  • [Styptic pencil stuff] ALUM, followed by [Pencil stuff out] EDIT
  • [Ball material] SNOW (d'oh!), followed by [Bale material] HAY

If I omitted your fave(s), by all means: speak up!

Dan Naddor's Los Angeles Times crossword

Wow, is it just me or was today's LAT tougher than any Friday LAT of recent vintage? As denizens of the L.A. Crossword Confidential comments know, some of the newspapers that picked up the LAT crossword after the demise of the Tribune daily crossword are getting noisy complaints from people who want a more Maleskan experience, a crossword that's amenable to crossword-dictionary solving. I'm assertively post-Maleskan and prefer clues with wordplay, clues that require flexible thinking, and interesting phrases in the grid. Today's was tougher than I was expecting, but tough = good in my book.

This puzzle's theme passes the buck and says it's not I, it's U—each theme entry changes a familiar phrase's I to a U, thereby reworking the meaning:
  • 17A. [Flared garb for Tarzan?] are JUNGLE BELLS, as in bell-bottom pants. Were these called BELLS for short in the '70s? I don't recall that. "Jingle Bells," of course, is the classic Christmas-time carol.
  • 24A. MUSTER COFFEE plays on Mister Coffee. The clue's [Manage to provide morning refreshment].
  • 37A. [Scarf makers?] are BOA CONSTRUCTORS. This is the first theme entry I completed, but a couple wrong answers at the top got in the way of deciphering 17A and 24A.
  • 46A. [Wrinkle on a dessert topper?] is CHERRY PUCKER. That sounds faintly obscene.
  • 57A. [Wolves full of themselves?] are a BLUSTER PACK, playing on a medicine packaged in a blister pack.

What were my hitches? EBRO instead of ARNO for 3D [Florentine flower?], TELL US instead of CALL US for 5D ["We want to hear from you"], YET instead of BUT for 12D ["Despite what I just said..."], all in the same area. (Ouch!) And then at 48D, with U*SET, I went with the not-at-all-the-same-thing UNSET for [Discomfit] instead of the now-obvious UPSET, even though ONART was patently wrong and 52A [Off-the-wall piece on the wall?] clues OP ART. It didn't help matters that I wanted PLODS or PLOPS instead of the correct POURS for 47D [Falls heavily]. I usually have far fewer wrong turns in a themed L.A. Times crossword.

There's a bit of a French vibe here. 13D [Cafe cup] is a TASSE and 42A [Silk, in St.-Etienne] is SOIE. And the YSER, a mostly Belgian [River to the North Sea], originates in France.

The interlock of the vertical 10-letter answers with the long Across theme answers suggests to me that Dan Naddor should be making themeless puzzles—but he oughtn't stop the themed puzzles because he comes up with so many new angles that he's one of the people keeping me interested in themed puzzles. MY LEFT FOOT is the [1989 Daniel Day-Lewis film] about an artist/writer with cerebral palsy. [It's hoisted on the ice annually] clues the super-timely STANLEY CUP; alas, the Chicago Blackhawks will not be vying for the Cup. I'm familiar with the "swords into plowshares" phrase, but had not realized that PLOWSHARES were [Cutting-edge farm parts], a plow's main cutting blades. The "shares" part is related to "shears," which makes perfect sense.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Themeless Friday"

I always read Brendan's post about the puzzle after I've solved it, and whaddaya know? He says he's had this one in his file for a while, perhaps not sold elsewhere as a result of the answers he singles out—most of which I did indeed have to hammer away at via the crossings. LIMOUSIN is a [Hardy cattle breed named for a region of France]? I'll take Brendan's word for it. QBERT'S QUBES was a [1983 arcade game sequel]? Never heard of it. A [Customs document] is a CARNET? Dictionary says it's a customs permit for taking a vehicle across the border. I also didn't know ARKY, [Baseball Hall of Famer Vaughn], having only the faintest sense of recognition.

  • TOOK A HEADER means [Fell]. I started with TOOK A TUMBLE here.
  • [Fish ___], TA**? Surely that's TAIL? Nope, fish TACO.
  • [Rambam adherent] is an ORTHODOX JEW. You don't see a lot of XJ combos in the crossword.
  • [Very expensive contest prizes?] are SENATE SEATS. You know how you can save a lot of money? Just pay off one person to get appointed to a Senate seat rather than spending millions on a campaign. I can't help thinking that Blagojevich appointed Burris out of spite for Burris. You want a Senate seat that's effin' golden but you can't come up with big money? Fine, we'll talk about how much you can pay. Then I'll be indicted and appoint you with assurances of your rectitude. Eventually those wiretaps will come out and you'll look like an ass. If you'd just rounded up a lot more money, I could've appointed you before I was indicted, but noooo.
  • [Beach community near LAX] is PLAYA DEL REY, best known to me from its appearance in Merl Reagle's Wordplay crossword.
  • [On the way out?] clues DROWSY.

Pancho Harrison's Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle, "Travel Gear"

I slowed myself down in a few spots by mistyping things and failing to notice the errors for a while. ENSERD in lieu of ENSERF ([Make a slave of]) blocked FIGURE ([Illustration in a set of instructions], which was looking incomprehensibly like DIGURE. And then I inverted the vowel pair in ANTOINE into ANTIONE (the fingers, they are familiar with -TION, are they not?), which mangled its crossings too.

Theme? Oh, theme! Yes. The titular "Travel Gear" is five things that start with words/names that are also the names of noted explorers. Marco POLO SHIRTS are [Clothing to wear while exploring the Orient?]. PIKESTAFF is the wooden shaft of a pike, and the guy Pike's Peak is named after might use a PIKE STAFF as a [Walking stick for exploring the Colorado mountains?]. [Drying cloths to use while exploring the Antarctic?] are SCOTT TOWELS, also a brand of paper towels. COOK STOVE might be a [Piece of caping gear for exploring Newfoundland?]. And Stanley, the "Mr. Livingstone, I presume" guy, has a [Drinking vessel to use while exploring deepest Africa?], hockey's STANLEY CUP.

Favorite non-theme clue" [Contractors, e.g.] for MUSCLES.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Internal Medicine"

As I mentioned a couple days ago, when I test-solved this puzzle, it had no circles in the grid, and I only noticed half of the theme answers, the ones in the longest four entries. Each of the eight themers is a two-word phrase with the words joined by a two-letter abbreviation for a worker in the medical field: MDs are doctors, RNs are registered nurses, PAs are physician assistants, and NPs are nurse practitioners. So these "medicine" folks are "internal" to their entries. Do you think you would have seen them all in the absence of circled letters or, say, asterisked theme clues?

Highlights: Theme answer WHOOP-ASS is clued as [Can's contents, in belligerent slang]. IRS is [R.E.M.'s label, once]—much more entertaining than the Internal Revenue Service. Theme entry DENVER NUGGETS are a [2009 Western Conference Finals team]; my kid was rooting for the yellow team (Lakers) until I told him that the blue team was the one his auntie Pia likes, and he switched allegiances straightaway. [Playing the ___ (improvised verbal contest)] is the DOZENS. Another lively hidden-professional answer is SPERM DONOR, [Person paid by the bank to make deposits]. I like that GENDER-NEUTRAL ([Like some PC toys]) clue for SPERM DONOR. [Abraham or Homer] sounds a little Old Testament and classical Greece, but they're SIMPSONs. Three Star Wars references: LANDO Calrissian, HAN Solo, and Reagan's SDI.

Tony Orbach's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Technobabble"

It wasn't until I pieced together the hey-that's-not-a-real-thing VIRTUAL UV TRIAL ([Simulated sun exposure study?]) that I discovered this was an anagram theme. Unlike the Klahn CrosSynergy puzzle, these anagram answers don't all have the same letters—rather, each theme entry begins with a 6- or 7-letter tech term followed by a one- or two-word anagram of that term. The most impressive find is the wireless HOTSPOT POTSHOT, or [Stab at a wireless connection?]. I'm also fond of the E-TAILER ATELIER, or [Online merchant's workshop?], just because I love the word ATELIER. I am pleased to report that despite the many hours I log at my blogs, I have not developed WEBLOG BOW LEG, a [Deformity caused by excessive posting?].

A few highlights:
  • SWEET TEA is a [Southern pitcherful].
  • A LEFT JAB in boxing is clued as a [Match staple], and wow, that clue did a good job of keeping me from understanding it.
  • [Source of "The True North strong and free!"] is the national anthem O CANADA. Do people in other countries make fun of "The Star-Spangled Banner" lyrics? Because that Canadian line seems cheesy to me. Do the bombs bursting in air get mocked similarly?
  • Better to clue FLAKED as [Failed to follow through, in slang] than as [Chipped off, like paint]. If you have a crossword dictionary, tell me: Does it include the slangy meaning of FLAKED?
  • Assorted 7- and 8-letter answers in the fill are particularly lively ones: SCOT-FREE, FACE LIFT, EGGHEAD, SLIP-UPS, LOOK AT ME, the BLUE FLU.