May 24, 2009

Monday, 5/25

BEQ 4:04
LAT 3:08
NYT 2:37
CS 6:51 (J—paper)

Peter A. Collins' New York Times crossword

The recession has hit the crossword and we must now make do with 7% fewer squares, as we've lost one column and have a 14x15 grid to contend with. On the bright side, your solving time should be 7% faster. On the other hand, you're getting 7% less entertainment value out of the puzzle. Can we refinance and get a 16x15?

The theme is spelled out clearly in the clue for 64A: [Thing hidden in each of the movie names in this puzzle]. The three circled squares in each theme entry contain short TREE names split between words:

  • [1989 Sally Field/Dolly Parton/Shirley MacLaine movie] is STEEL MAGNOLIAS. Huh, I thought this was a Julia Roberts movie with Dermot Mulroney. Oddly, MAGNOLIA is a kind of tree too—but the other theme entries do not have extra trees.
  • [2000 Martin Lawrence movie] is BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE.
  • [1992 Alec Baldwin/Meg Ryan film] is PRELUDE TO A KISS.

I slowed myself down a bit by not bothering to refer to the cross-referenced clue when I was in the lower left corner. 51D says [See 46-Across], but 46A's clue wasn't on my screen at the moment so I just worked the crossings. Seeing [With 51-Down, John Ashcroft's predecessor as attorney general] would've made it a gimme, so I should have taken the two seconds to click on that clue. Then I had the wrong bottom half for [Hip-hop wear], opting for BAGGY PANTS in lieu of the more specific BAGGY JEANS. Up top, I had no idea what the [Classic John Lee Hooker song of 1962 was] until I had enough crossings to see BOOM BOOM emerging. I also paused at [Shots taken by some athletes], pondering shot puts and free throws until the crossings pointed towards STEROIDS.

The rest of the clues put up less of a fight. Or no fight. A handful of clues:
  • LOVING CUPS are [Some trophies]. Anyone know (without looking it up) the derivation of that term?
  • ["Star Wars" villain ___ the Hutt] is JABBA. I laughed when I saw that because my son had just put in the Empire Strikes Back DVD. And no, I have no idea whether Jabba's in that episode.
  • [Hunk] clues both a SLAB and a HE-MAN. I dispute the accuracy of the clue for the second answer. A hunk is always good-looking, but plenty of he-men are big ugly slabs of muscle.
  • Crossword classics! [Margarine] is OLEO and an [Earthenware pot] is an OLLA. Speaking of 4-letter words starting with OL, [Ken of "thirtysomething"] OLIN. Wow, what has he done lately? IMDb tells me he's had a role on Brothers & Sisters, that Sally Field/Calista Flockhart/Rob Lowe show I've never seen. Coincidentally, he's also a producer and director on that show. Back to 4-letter crossword classics—we also have [Jai ___] ALAI and SLOE the [Gin flavoring].

Updated Monday morning:

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Hopper Toppers"—Janie's review

This puzzle is built on an equation we know and love—especially when it's been executed thoughtfully, mirthfully; and this one has been. Today it reads: familiar phrase/name/title + ROO ["hopper"] at the front of it ["topper"]=new whimsical phrase. Or, as the clue at 63D says: [Aussie critter at the fronts of 20-, 28-, 47-, and 56-Across]. Let's take a look:
  • 20A: [Spacious skies?] MY HEAVENS + ROO at the front=ROOMY HEAVENS. A beaut from the get-go and the only one of theme fill in which the meaning of the second word is almost the same "after" as it is "before." The clue reminds me of the argument that comes up from time to time about replacing the combat-inspired "Star-Spangled Banner" with the more pastoral "America the Beautiful" as our national anthem. Something to ponder on this patriotic holiday...
  • 28A: [Actor Romano on a perch?] STINGRAY + ROO at the front=ROOSTING RAY.
  • 47A: [Con man's plan for producer Norman?] KING LEAR + ROO at the front=ROOKING LEAR.
  • 56A: [Well-established dragon vanquisher] I thought this one might be related to St. George, but no...more like TED KNIGHT + ROO at the front=ROOTED KNIGHT. I find this one a little less graceful than the other three, maybe because it's kinda twisty. I think of knights as being active and describing one as ROOTED summons up a picture of a knight in a fixed, unmoving pose. What does [Amuse immensely], though, is the way KNIGHT sits atop SLAY in the grid. Now that's more like it!

Now I realize I'm skewing the cluing with this cluster of fill, but MONSIGNOR triggered a bunch of clerical/religious connections. MACE for one, isn't only a [Thief-thwarting spray]; The New Testament has the book of ACTS and I PETER (okay—I know this is an inversion of PETER I...); there's also a HALO, perhaps belonging to St. PAUL?.......And I just noticed there's even, um, A MASS. MY HEAVENS, indeed!

A pair of playful grid-bits: the crossing of OVER and DRIVE; and the crossing of [Robert De ____] NIRO with DINERO.

Why do I cite these examples? Because truth be told, I'm not in love with the debut fill LOOKERSON or even the oft-seen MISDO. Amid the more sparkling fill, they kinda SPLAT. The connections, fanciful and/or tenuous and/or genuine as they are, help keep me focused on the puzzle's real strengths—its SINEW so to speak. Like the fact that in the theme fill, the two words ending in -ING, ROOSTING and ROOTING, are sandwiched between ROOMY and ROOTED. This is a fine way to keep tight the presentation of the theme. Finally, Patrick has given us one splendid bonus clued in connection to the ROO's home: [Australia's national gem]? OPAL. I always love picking up bits of information like that!

Los Angeles Times crossword by Gia Christian, a.k.a. Rich Norris

This is the second Monday LAT this month with a Rich Norris pen name byline, so he must not be getting enough great Monday submissions. They say good Mondays are harder to make than more difficult puzzles are—and Rich has the skills to craft Mondays that are as smooth as his themelesses are impressive. In this puzzle, the six theme entries begin with a baseball umpire's calls. As [Oedipus ___] REX points out at L.A. Crossword Confidential, the calls are paired as binary options. A baserunner can be OUT or SAFE, a pitcher can throw a STRIKE or a BALL, and the hit ball can be FAIR or FOUL. The calls are in these phrases:
  • [Not in working order, informally] is OUT OF WHACK. Before I'd figured out what the theme was, I filled in ON THE FRITZ, which is equally informal and colorful.
  • [Crook who doesn't need the combination] is a SAFECRACKER.
  • STRIKE PAY is a [Union benefit during a walkout].
  • The whole BALL OF WAX is another slangy phrase. It means [Everything, informally]. Having lively language like this helps jazz up a Monday puzzle. It's certainly possible to construct an easy puzzle that's arid and lifeless, so the slanginess is appreciated.
  • FAIR WEATHER is a [Promising picnic forecast]. I hope your Memorial Day ventures have suitable weather—it's on the chilly/cloudy side in Chicago.
  • A [Tendency to anger easily] is a FOUL TEMPER.

I forgot my Melville when I read the clue [Moby Dick, notably]—I was tempted to fill in SEA CAPTAIN or WHALER-something, thinking of Captain Ahab. Moby Dick's the name of the WHITE WHALE. My English prof who taught Moby-Dick had a friend who'd paddle down the river and call out to others, "Hast seen the white whale?" Literary hilarity, I tell ya.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Boys Club"

This one's a rerun from Time Out New York, but as a non-New Yorker, I hadn't seen the puzzle before. The theme entries are made by inserting XY into a familiar phrase to give it male chromosomes:
  • [The Big Bang or the Big Crunch?] is a GALAXY EVENT. Gala event + XY.
  • Willa Cather's O Pioneers! becomes OXY PIONEERS, or [The first to use acne medicine].
  • [Substitute decision?] clues PROXY CHOICE, which is an actual phrase as well as being pro-choice + XY. This distracted me from seeing that the theme involved the addition of XY, and at first I thought it was a lame theme of "made-up phrases that contain an XY, muddled by one phrase that's a real one."
  • [Coach Phil who's incredibly square?] is BOXY JACKSON, which rhymes with Foxy Jackson. "Bo Knows" Bo Jackson + XY.

Scrabbly fill overall, with the four X's of the theme joined by another X and a Z, Q, J, and K. It wouldn't be kosher to clue the base phrases with an XY slant when the answers have different connotations, but it could have been fun to have clues like [Big ball for men?], [Will Cather novel?], [Supporting reproductive rights for men?], and [Football and baseball star becomes all man?].