May 29, 2009

Saturday, 5/30

Newsday 7:47
NYT 6:56
LAT 4:17
CS 7:23 (J—paper)

Matt Ginsberg's New York Times crossword

Write-up and answer grid coming later tonight, after raspberry shortcake and putting my kid to bed.

But first:

48A. [Chain of treeless rolling hills] is a WOLD.
44D. The W's crossing is a [Metalworking tool] called a SWAGE.

Now, TOLD/STAGE would fit there and could lend themselves to interesting cluing riffs, but no, we get WOLD and SWAGE, neither of which I've heard of. After decades of crosswording!

Aside from that, there are about a dozen Z's in the grid, which is just insane, so I enjoyed the puzzle. The "pick a random letter and see if the applet likes it" game got old pretty quickly, though. W?? Maybe it's a product placement for the W Hotels.

—Okay, I'm back, and my kid's still not in bed! This puppy's a 72-worder, which means it was probably easier to fill the grid in mondo Scrabbly fashion than it would've been for a 68-worder. I have no objection to hitting the ceiling for themeless word count, especially not when the fill boggles the mind. Favorite answers, enjoyable clues:

  • 12A. [Just over a minority] is ONE HALF, which is also just under a majority in that awkward in-between stage.
  • 16A. JACUZZI is the ["Water that moves you" sloganeer]. Luckily, this isn't the slogan for a laxative beverage.
  • 17A. CHORIZO! Great word, but I'd never eat [Spanish pork sausage]. I'm so sausage-averse I don't even like vegetarian sausage.
  • 19A. YITZHAK Rabin has a first name that is perhaps more fun to spell than any other. He was [Shimon's predecessor].
  • 21A. [Sucker, quickly] is a VAC, or vacuum. I almost went with POP, short for lollipop.
  • 34A. Anyone who would CLAP to [Summon a servant, maybe] should be slapped. Although...after my tonsillectomy and wisdom tooth removal, I absolutely clapped to summon my husband.
  • 40A. Another puzzle recently, maybe not an NYT, had PETARD clued as a bomb of some sort. Here it's a [Gate-breaching bomb].
  • 45A. ZOG is the [Planet visited by Spaceman Spiff in "Calvin and Hobbes"]. There was also a King Zog of Albania.
  • 56A. The [Drink with lemon juice] is a GIN FIZZ. Does the sloe gin fizz also have lemon juice? SLOES are three rows above, clued as [Sour fruit].
  • 60A. Emilio ESTEVEZ was a [Brat Pack member] in the '80s. Anyone else try to think of a Rat Pack member ending in Z? No? JUST ME? (That one's clued as a [Response to "Is anyone else here?"].)
  • 1D. JOJOBAS are [Southwestern shrubs yielding a cosmetic oil], the jojoba oil seen on many a label. What exactly is it? Who cares? It has two J's.
  • 6D. Popeye [Cartoonist Segar]'s first name was ELZIE. Is it any wonder he's typically credited as E.C. Segar?
  • 14D. [Junk] is SCHLOCK. I like all those Yiddishy sch-words.
  • 27D. In slang, RULES means [Is way cool].
  • 35D. The four-Z spelling of PIZZAZZ is the one I like. It's [Flair].
  • 53D. The queen bee clues fool me a lot. [Queen's quarters] are the HIVE.
  • 54D. GIRO is a [Big name in cycling helmets], and so is Bell.

Here are a few answers that demanded that I work the crossings a good bit: MAZY is an odd little word, clued as [Tangled and interwoven]. [Clyde ___, "Beau Brummell" playwright, 1890] is Mr. FITCH. (Who?) I know what pomades are, but POMATUM—[Fragrant hair dressing]—is unfamiliar. In music, [Larghetto] means SLOWISH.

Updated Saturday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Pig Farm"—Janie's review

Anyone who attended this year's ACPT should remember Merl Reagle's puzzle #3: "Lipstick on a Pig" which gave us lots of cosmetic-treatment puns with a porcine twist. When I saw the title of today's puzzle I was immediately reminded of it. Once I started solving, however, it became clear that Martin's approach would be uniquely his. In three grid-spanning entries, Martin gives us some insight into what remains of a pig once it has gone to, and is resting in, Hog Heaven. And what might those options be? Our first choice is :
  • 17A: GREEN EGGS AND HAM [Dr. Seuss classic]. My usual method of solving is to do the first row of acrosses, left to right, and then start with the downs, going from right to left. So today I saw ANDHAM emerge and quickly summoned up the title in question (and felt brilliant, I tell you! [Really...sometimes it takes so little...]). Still, I wasn't certain what to expect for the remaining theme fill, the next of which is:
  • 37A: PORK BARREL BILLS [Sources of government waste]. Exactly. Now here I was able to enter PORKBARREL right away, but BILLS was to come later. All I could summon up at first was SPENDING—which wasn't gonna work... Leaving only:
  • 57A: SIR FRANCIS BACON ["Novum Organum" author]. Had no idea, but once SIRF emerged, knew exactly what was required and entered it with confidence.

With two CS debuts (the first two) and one major puzzle debut, this theme fill is both fresh and a lot of fun to boot.

But it's not only the quality of the theme-fill that makes this puzzle so good. The lengthy non-theme fill stands on its own and it, too, is fresh as can be. There are three CS debuts here:
  • OPOSSUMS [Pogo and others]. Like our friend the "koala," whom we encountered yesterday, another folivore, another marsupial;
  • BRIC-A-BRAC [Curios]. I love this one. Makes me think of "tsotchkes" and "etagères." And
  • EXHIBIT A [Most damning evidence, maybe].

And two major-puzzle firsts:
  • MCGREGOR ["Trainspotting" star Ewan]. Given the title of today's puzzle, I was thinkin' "Farmer"...; and
  • JOHN MILLS ["Oh! What a Lovely War" star]. Also father of Juliet and Hayley. While O! WALW is cited in its film incarnation, it came into being on stage under the aegis of Britain's astonishing director, the late Joan Littlewood.

Three other astonishing women—all born within 20 years of each other—get first-name mentions, and I'll mention 'em, too: hostess PERLE Mesta (1889-1975), aviator AMELIA Earhart (1897-1937) and author EUDORA Welty (1909-2001).

Some clues that shone: [Joltless joe] for DECAF (remember when Joltin' Joe was the spokesman for Mr. Coffee?...); and [Letters on a Cardinal's cap]. I really FALTERED with this one. What sort of religious esoterica is this? How am I supposed to...? Oh. Baseball's St. Louis Cardinals. STL. Nevermind...

And have no idea why I like this particular pair of words, but I do: SPINAL and BUNION. Go figger.

This was a not-too-difficult puzzle with a lotta meaty fill. A Saturday treat (sorry, vegetarians!!). Need more? There's a CD that pokes fun of the ultra-earnest (Gregorian) Chant disc that was so popular for a while. This is called Grunt and is a recording of Pigorian chant...

Robert Wolfe's Los Angeles Times crossword

I've got a longer write-up of this puzzle L.A. Crossword Confidential today. One thing I didn't mention over there is my unease with the clue for 1-Across, WADES IN. Yes, the dictionary says it does indeed mean [Begins energetically], but that just seems wrong. If you're enthusiastic about getting into the water at the beach, you'll move beyond mere wading and splash in for full immersion. Whoever decided that wading in represented a "vigorous attack or intervention" was clearly on drugs. Is there a word for "idiom that seems patently backwards"?

EXTRA-LARGE is clued as a [Soft drink order]. I order that size only at the movies, and refer to it as "a trough of Diet Coke." (ASPARTAME!) [Philippine bread] is Philippine currency, the PESO. My mother-in-law doesn't bake much so I haven't had any Filipino baked goods, but that's not what this clue is about. [Caesar's tax form?] is 1040, or MXL—the clue is just nutty enough that I like it, even though it works that question mark hard. (Caesar did not complete any IRS forms.) The [Burrowing rabbitlike mammal] called the PIKA is adorable. It lives out west in the Great Basin, the area between the Rockies and Sierra Nevada. And, as I learned when reading about it for my L.A.C.C. post, it eats its fresh poop to extract more nutrients and only the second-round poop becomes the familiar pellets of rabbit poop. Shouldn't the pika have evolved a more effective digestive system so it could get all the nutrients out the first time? I'm relieved that humans' GI tract evolved past that.

Updated again Saturday afternoon:

Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"

This is among my least favorite Doug Peterson themelesses (answer here), but it's still pretty good. (Doug's set his bar high.) And I like this difficulty level. First, let's look at the parts I liked most:
  • SNOW JOB is a colorful phrase. Not crazy about the clue [Hustle], as a hustle and a snow job don't feel quite the same to me.
  • BAILING could've had a horrible, lifeless clue, but [Taking off] means BAILING's slangy sense is what's in play here. "This symposium blows. I'm gonna bail."
  • THE WILD, WILD WEST is a cool 15. I know it from the crappy movie with, if memory serves, Will Smith and Kenneth Branagh, but that conveyed some time travel, I think, so ['60s (sort of) sci-fi series] worked for me.
  • Who doesn't love MELANCHOLY? (The word, not the feeling.) It's clued simply as [Low]. [Lowers] is unrelated. The word that means SCOWLS rhymes with cower and flower, not mower.
  • I love AWKWARD SILENCES, which are [What hosts may fill].
  • SCTV, short for Second City Television, is [Letters on Ramis's resume]. The very funny Harold Ramis was on SCTV back around 1980 or thereabouts.
  • I like JAILBIRDS, but the clue [Losers] sure doesn't seem to equate. JAILBIRDS has a degree of specificity that isn't matched by [Losers].
  • OGLING is indeed [Unwelcome attention]. I like the negative aspersions in the clue.
  • Free [Weights] in the weightlifting area of the gym are IRON, as in "pumping iron."

What worked less well here? This stuff:
  • [Baroque, in a way] clues FUGAL. Music isn't my area, true, but the dictionary definition of baroque says nothing about fugues and the fugue/fugal definitions don't mention the baroque style.
  • If you're going with finance, then the typical IRA probably isn't a [Place for cash]. A saving or checking account is a place for cash, but my IRAs are invested in mutual funds. And that money isn't exactly the same as cash because, well, a good 40% of it vanished, and cash doesn't tend to vanish. I suppose the intent here was to trick solvers into trying ATM, but...meh.
  • GEYSERS aren't "stuff." They may be "things" but they're not "stuff," so [Hot stuff] fails as a clue if you ask me.
  • Doug tries to get cute with ULNAE. [They're up in arms]? No. What are up in your arms are your humeri. The ulnae and the radii are down in your arms, closer to the ground.