May 17, 2009

Monday, 5/18

BEQ 5:31
NYT 2:35
LAT 2:29
CS 5:50 (J—paper)

Billie Truitt's New York Times crossword

On a Monday, generally all of the theme entries will be both gettable and eminently familiar. Today, three of the theme answers qualify but I met the fourth with a blank stare:

  • 17A. CRUMB CRUST is a [Graham cracker pie shell]. I'd call it a graham cracker crumb crust, personally.
  • 26A. A [Spider or worm] is a CREEPY CRAWLY. Colloquial, fun to see in the crossword, not necessarily so fun to encounter in the home or garden.
  • 44A. [Lending crisis] clues CREDIT CRUNCH. That's solid.
  • 58A. [Cajun seafood dish] clues CRAB CREOLE. Hang on a sec. I just spent spring break in New Orleans and that doesn't ring a bell. I Googled "crab creole" and got a tiny 5,140 hits—some of which are for combo dishes that include shrimp and whatnot. Is "crab Creole" a familiar dish in and of itself? Maybe Billie Truitt or Will Shortz are big fans of it, but I'd never encountered it. Heck, I Googled my own name and got 5,210 hits, and know I wouldn't pass muster as an NYT crossword answer. (Not yet, anyway. Give me time.)
Highlights in the fill: DWIGHT Eisenhower was the [President who followed Harry] Truman. Gotta love 6-letter words with 5 consonants. RAW ONION is the horrible [Common burger topper]. I wish raw onions would go away. SLUMP and HUMP sit side by side. One's a [Batter's dry spell] and the other's a [Camel feature].

Today's featured crosswordese is NEAP, a [Twice-a-month tide]. Do people who live near the ocean bandy those terms about, neap tide and ebb tide, or do they just talk about high and low tide? We tideless Midwesterners are not privy to this information.

Updated Monday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Drag Time"—Janie's review

Describing the U.S. in 1902 in the lyrics for her Tony-winning musical, Lynn Ahrens wrote:
And there was distant music,
Simple and somehow sublime,
Giving the nation
A new syncopation—
The people called it Ragtime!
Martin's "Drag Time" not only conjures up this joyous musical form as underscoring for his puzzle, but I have to say, "simple and somehow sublime" suitably describes my experience of solving it. The gimmick? Five in-the-language phrases (like the one in the title) are preceded by the letter "D." So what does that give us?
  • 17A: DRAINCHECK [Plumber's service?]
  • 11D: DART MUSEUM [Gallery for a pub game?]
  • 39A: DEARWIG [Beloved hairpiece?] And in case you're not exactly sure what an earwig is...eew... But I sure do love that clue/fill combo. Most unexpected.
  • 27D: DICE BUCKET [Casino pail?]
  • 62A: DRUM RUNNER [Smuggler of timpani?]

Fun, right? There's perhaps a bit of an inconsistency in the cluing as neither [Plumber's service] nor [Beloved hairpiece] relates to the meaning of the base phrase as the other three do. Instead, we get brand new constructions altogether. I wonder about it, but I don't make this a crime. The quality of the wordplay more than compensates.

With this kind of theme I also wonder about the entries that didn't make the cut. I've come up with DAFTERTHOUGHT [Crazier idea?], DAIRY-FAIRY [Visionary barn-sprite?] and DRAW OYSTERS [Still-life art class assignment?]. Yours?

Of the non-theme fill, we get four lovely 8s: TEN-SPEED, SARASOTA, GET STUCK and DIATRIBE—with those last two making their CS debuts. While their clues are the pretty straightforward [Motivate] and [Hallucinations], I do love the balance in the grid (and poetry) of the two 7s: INSPIRE and VISIONS.

From pop "culchuh," we have Al PACINO, Mel TORME, Irene CARA, Billy IDOL, and animated characters REN and DOC (who are "style-metrically" opposed and really do come from opposite ends of the "family entertainment" spectrum as well). The sole sports reference is the Celts' NATE Archibald; the sole scientific reference, Charles DARWIN. I know this is probably too little by way of sports and science for many solvers, but all in all this is just about the right balance for me! Athletically and scientifically challenged solvers unite! ;-) No—the reality is that ya gotta stay open to it all (even if ya can't absorb it all) to make any kind of inroad into improving your solving skills. It's just a fact of crossword-solving life!

Other clue/fill faves: [Short stop?]/STA, [More than fervent]/RABID, [Refuse visitors?]/RATS. (Really, between the ANT, the [D]EARWIG and the RATS, I'm kinda thinking it might be wise to bring in an exterminator!) But that last clue really is a good one because you gotta decide whether to read "refuse" as a noun or a verb. Nice.

To view the Ragtime "Prologue" in its entirety (music by Stephen Flaherty), click here and enjoy.

Back to Orange, with a discussion topic:

I remember that [Refuse visitors?] clue from a 2006 NYT puzzle by Brendan Quigley. Love it! On the Cruciverb-L mailing list, there was a recent discussion of database clues—if you're making a crossword and find an absolutely perfect clue (like [Refuse visitors?]) in the database, can you recycle that gem or is it incumbent on you to write your own clue? I say it would be a loss to use that clue just one time, in one puzzle published on one day. Why not let new batches of crossword fans experience the same kick? Yes, it would be lazy to pull every clue from the database, and it would be rude to claim credit for a clever clue if you know someone else used it before—but judicious reuse of fantastic clues makes crosswords better, not worse.

Dan Naddor's L.A. Times crossword

Super-easy Monday puzzle in the L.A. Times today, even if I did take a wrong turn on the [Mexican side dish]. The theme is R AND B (55D. [Music genre suitable for this puzzle's theme]) and each of the theme answers are phrases that begin with R and B:
    22A. [Pastrami sandwich choice] is RYE BREAD.
    27A. [Mexican side dish] is REFRIED BEANS. I filled that in before knowing what the theme was, so I went with RICE AND BEANS, which is 7/12ths correct.
    48A. [Beef for a Sunday dinner] is ROAST BRISKET. I've heard tell of beef brisket and roast beef, but not ROAST BRISKET.
    56A. [Float soft drink] is ROOT BEER. I was at a bar yesterday that offers alcoholic root beer floats. Who knew such a thing existed?

There's a symmetrical pair of automotive woes. [Break down due to lack of coolant, as an auto] clues OVERHEAT, and FISHTAIL is [Skid, as a car's rear end]. KENNER was the [Original Easy-Bake Oven toy company]. Ah, KENNER! Also the original seller of the Baby Alive dolls my sister and I loved in the '70s.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Check Please"

If you don't know that unch is crossword constructor shorthand for "unchecked letter," you might be wondering what the point of this puzzle's rebus squares is. There are three unchecked letters—they're part of Across answers but have black squares above and below them so there's no crossing answer. One of the fundamental rules of standard American crosswords is "No unchecked squares ever!" (Am I saying Margaret Farrar had a touch of the Joan Crawford in her? I am not.) This is part of why the English make fun of our crosswords—what kind of wuss needs crossings for every single square? Red-blooded American wusses, that's who.

So Brendan essentially checks the unchecked squares by having their very uncheckedness be the check—each unchecked square is filled with UNCH, flagging itself as an unch going Down while also completing an Across answer.

I had trouble in two areas of this puzzle. In the upper middle, I seldom recall that the [Chess skill rating system] is called ELO, didn't know ALPO was the [Chop House Originals maker], and figured [Ohm or joule, e.g.] was looking for something scientific rather than for EPONYM (the ohm and the joule are named after people called Ohm and Joule). In the Florida corner, I figured ["The English Patient" setting] was looking for an outdated name for a country or region in northern Africa, and not just a plain ol' DESERT. WUMPUS? ["Hunt the ___" (classic computer game)]? Not ringing a bell. [Port in Italia] could be an awful lot of things, so NAPOLI didn't spring to mind. And I was thinking of "nutty person" or crunchy edible for [Nut] rather than a GONAD.