May 16, 2009

Sunday, 5/17

NYT second Sunday "Takeaway Crossword" 13:08
PI 8:42
NYT 8:35
LAT 7:42
BG 7:10
CS 4:40

Oliver Hill's New York Times crossword, "Perfect Jobs"

After I figured out how the theme operated, I kept forgetting again and thinking of famous people or characters with the names in the clues rather than noting what verb the name sounded like. The theme answers are apt occupations for a person with a name that sounds sort of like that worker's task:

  • 23A. [Perfect job for Dustin?] is a HOUSEKEEPER who's dusting.
  • 25A. MERCENARY is the [Perfect job for Warren?], who's always warrin' it up.
  • 44A. [Perfect job for Rowan?] is OLYMPIC CANOER. Not very steady work, that.
  • 65A. MASTER THIEF isn't really a job, is it? It's clued as the [Perfect job for Robin?], and here's where I was pondering what sort of THIEF or CHIEF job would be good for Batman's sidekick.
  • 71A. [Perfect job for Darren?] is STUNT DOUBLE, which involves plenty of daring.
  • 93A. [Perfect job for Landon?] is an AIRPLANE PILOT. Isn't it unnecessary to call them airplane or airline pilots? If the pilot's a test pilot or a helicopter pilot, we call them that—otherwise, we should all save ourselves the syllables and just call them pilots. And yet "airplane pilot" is 100% in the language.
  • 118A. [Perfect job for Brandon?] is COW HERDER. Aw, poor cows, getting branded
  • 121A. [Perfect job for Holden?] is POKER PLAYER.

Robin is unisex, but I'm disappointed to see the puzzle handed over to the boys. Where is Karen, the home health aide? Or Carolyn, the Christmas concert director? Or Marian, the justice of the peace or clergywoman? Sharon...whose job is it to share?

Clues and answers of note:
  • Good gravy, 1A kicks off with [Bob Jones Award org.]? The crossings eventually told me it's the USGA, for golf.
  • I like the stacked Arabic answers. ISLAM is ["The straight path"] and LEILA is a [Girl's name meaning "night" in Arabic]—also the name of my best friend in 8th grade. 
  • BRAIN-DEAD is clued as [Completely unthinking]. This is not a good match for crossword solving...but when your daily crossword bloggers are feeling brain-dead, they suck it up and get cracking anyway.
  • A [Woodworker's double boiler] is a GLUEPOT. Not a word I've ever encountered, but you can't weld wood so you're gonna need a little glue.
  • The MERENGUE is a [Relative of the cha-cha-cha] and MARENGO is the [Italian town where Napoleon won a historic 1800 battle]. A half hour before I sat down to do this puzzle, my husband and I shared a laugh at the menu in the window of a waxing salon—what they're calling the Cha-Cha-Cha wax will run you $10,'s covering less ground than the Brazilian wax they're calling the Samba.
  • I like the casual language of answers like BLOWS IT, IN SPADES, and ALL RIGHT.
  • A FREE-SOILER was a [Pre-Civil War abolitionist]. Hooray for the Free Soil Party! Too bad they didn't have better luck.
  • YOD is the Hebrew [Letter after teth].
  • The ADMIRAL is the [Nickname of the N.B.A.'s David Robinson].
  • Together with Jerry Stiller, ANNE MEARA is [Half of a longtime comedy duo], Stiller & Meara. You can see where Ben Stiller gets it from.
  • The Oldsmobile [98, e.g.] was a SEDAN, an OLDS. Did you want a letter grade of HIGH A or something for one of these clues? Or something about temperature?
  • An APSIS is an [Orbital point]. I'm no astronomer, so this is a word I picked up from crosswords.
  • A [Writer of aphorisms] is a GNOMIST. Sounds like it should mean someone who's bigoted against gnomes, doesn't it?
  • [The same to vous?] is EGAL, French for "same."
  • SAGO is a [Steamed pudding ingredient], apparently. This would be a pudding made from milk and the starch from the sago palm.
  • Two words are inversions: UPEND means to [Topple], and END UP means to [Result].
  • Italy's up there with MARENGO, and also invoked with [___-Turkish War, in which the first aerial bombs were used]—ITALO.
  • [Saudi Arabian currency] is the RIYAL. Surely I'm not the only one who entered DINAR here? In Iran, one riyal is worth 100 dinars.
  • You wouldn't think the Gray Lady's crossword would be where I learn drug slang, but SCAG = [Heroin, slangily] is here, and the first time I encountered that slang was also in the crossword. 
Matt Ginsberg's NYT second sunday puzzle, a "Takeaway Crossword"

Ah, that's more like it. Remember when we'd get a crazy, twisted Friday Sun crossword that would push the cruciverbal envelope and strain our brains in a delicious manner? Matt Ginsberg companion to the NYT Sunday crossword is one of those goodies. I opted to solve it without reading the notepad (doing so is definitely more badass, but there's no shame in using the notepad if you must), and I don't think it was all that hard to notice that the asterisks replaced all instances of a single letter within each clue, or to guess that the same letter would be omitted from the answer. The astonishing thing is that dropping the letter from the answer still leaves us with a valid crossword answer. Granted, with straightforward clues, this would be an awfully dull puzzle—but instead we have to work a different spot in our brains to come up with the answers.

Here are some examples. 9A is ["Dani*l Boon*" actor], with two E's replaced by asterisks. The actor in question is Ed Ames. Minus the E's, he turns into the word DAMS, and that's the answer that goes in the grid. 34A is RESIN, which is Kreskin with a couple K's excised—Kreskin is the [Mentalist inspired by "Mandra*e the Magician"]. 27D is ROCA, a Spanish word meaning I-don't-know-what as well as a confection (in fact, Matt has let me sample his wife's delicious almond roca at the last two ACPTs), and if you add four L's you get ROLL CALL, a [*egis*ative routine (Sp.)]. That tag at the end of the clue offers the solver a little help with the grid answer; other tags used in this puzzle include Lat., suffix, Ger., hyph., 2 wds., and Fr.

My favorite discovery was that Stuttgart is just SUGAR with four T's—64A is clued [Sou*hwes* German ci*y]. The hardest factoid I encountered was 40A [Apo*tle known a* "the Zealot"]. I don't know Biblical stuff too well, so I needed to lean on the crossings to get TIMON, which is St. Simon minus the S's. The only clue that led me astray was 52A [Italian po*t?]. I was thinking poEt and missing E's, but no, it turned out to be poRt. And given the question mark, we're not talking about a port city here—port wine. Marsala is a sherry type of Italian wine, and minus the R, it becomes MASALA, an Indian spice mixture.

Okay, Matt, you figured out how to make one of these work smoothly. Now how about constructing some more? I know Will Shortz doesn't have a ton of Sunday slots for variety puzzles like this, but I'd definitely vote to have more Takeaway Crosswords. Many of you adore the Cox & Rathvon acrostics that take up 26 of the 52 second Sunday puzzles, but I wouldn't mind swapping a few of those out for interesting puzzles like this one. (I wouldn't want to lose any of the diagramlesses or cryptics, though.)

Updated Sunday morning:

Kathleen Fay O'Brien's syndicated L.A. Times Sunday crossword, "Quiet Meetings"

See L.A. Crossword Confidential for my full write-up of this puzzle. The theme entries shorten PIANISSIMO to PP, both meaning "very softly" in music, and use the PP as "quiet meetings" between words in assorted two-word phrases (e.g. TOP PRIORITY, SLEEP PHASE). I'm always pleased to see a word like CHUTZPAH in the grid ([Impudence]), but the theme was definitely on the dry side. Bonus points for the liveliness of theme entries STRIP POKER and POP PSYCHOLOGY. The latter takes the "quiet meetings" theme to extremes by having the second P of PP be so soft, it's a silent letter.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Triple Doubles"

Here's another theme where it's the letters within the phrases that hold sway—in this case, each phrase has three sets of double letters. I'm guessing Merl started with the long title, split into two partially stacked answers at the bottom of the grid, that has two triple doubles, or sextuple doubles. The 1955 comedy is ABBOTT AND COSTELLO / MEET THE MUMMY. The remaining triple doubles are as follows:
  • 21A. [800 number, e.g.] is a TOLL-FREE CALL. I'm not crazy about the lack of parallelism between "number" and "call."
  • 24A. LITTLE GREEN APPLES is a [1968 O.C. Smith hit]. Never heard of the singer, never heard of the song.
  • 34A. For [Last Tudor monach], I paid no mind to English history and went with the first four-letters-containing-double-letters queen name that bubbled to the surface: GOOD QUEEN ANNE. D'oh! It's GOOD QUEEN BESS.
  • 54A. [ABC show since 2003] is JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE. This is the first theme entry in which a set of double letters splits over two words, and this threw me off a bit. I even tried to make him JIMMY KIMMELMANN.
  • 65A. SLEEP TILL NOON is clued as [Indulge oneself on a day off]. This answer is less of a stand-alone entity than the other theme entries.
  • 77A. A COFFEE TABLE BOOK is not only a colorful phrase, it's an [Often glossy volume].
  • 95A. YABBA DABBA DOO is Fred Flintstone's [Quitting-time shout, on TV]. Presumably he also said it in the live-action movie version. I'm not about to watch the movie to find out for sure.

The least familiar answer in the grid was MARK J., clued as [Secret Service chief ___ Sullivan]. Ouch.

Henry Hook's maybe-6-weeks-old Boston Globe crossword, "Done to the Nines"

This is my favorite of today's 21x21 puzzles. The theme entries are "done to the nines" by having the Roman numeral IX added to them, radically altering each phrase's meaning. Noncommissioned + IX = NIXON-COMMISSIONED, [Like the Watergate burglars?]. SPECIAL KIX might be a [Breakfast cereal blend?] of Special K and Kix. The Ming dynasty turns into MIXING "DYNASTY," a [Soundtrack job on a 1980s soap?]. A stock quote becomes STOCK QUIXOTE, a [Standard idealist?]. There are four other theme entries, but I liked these ones better.

Favorite clues and answers:
  • PYONGYANG is [North Korea's capital]. I recommend Guy DeLisle's graphic-novel style memoir, Pyongyang, about an animator's work sojourn in the bizarro world that is North Korea for a Westerner. His comings and goings were monitored closely by his North Korean minders, but he was still able to learn a lot about this surreal dictatorship.
  • KOJAK! This Telly [Savalas series] from the '70s is delightfully Scrabbly.
  • Remember the KLIBAN cats? As in this book from '75? Yep, I had a copy too. As [Famed cat cartoonist]s go, I'll take B. Kliban any day over Jim ("Garfield") Davis.
  • The comet KOHOUTEK was a [Disappointing 1973 fly-by]. Like KOJAK, a name from the '70s that starts and ends with K.
  • The clue [Cardinals are placed in it] confused me completely until I had several crossings. SUDOKU! Cardinal numbers, not redbirds.

Bob Klahn's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge"

Have I cracked The Klahn Code, or is this puzzle a good bit easier than, say, his occasional (and all-too-infrequent) Saturday NYT crosswords? I started out fumbling through the first Across and Down clues and seeing nothing I knew, but then it started rolling. 5A [Huge goof] tends to be the sort of clue we see for BONER (unless it's an Onion crossword), and checking the R's viability against 9D [Speak on the record?], that worked with RAP (great clue!). Toughest clues, for me:
  • 16A. ["Happy Days Are Here Again" composer] is AGER. I don't know who AGER is (Milton Ager, the Internet tells me), but I like the proper noun route better than clues that have AGER mean "thing that ages something." Fill-in-the-blanks like [Golden ___] have their place in easy puzzles, of course.
  • [Fringe group?] clues CILIA.
  • [Roaring Camp chronicler] is Bret HARTE.
  • [Troublemaker invented by the British Royal Air Force] is a GREMLIN. Wow, I didn't know this word only dated back to the 1940s. It sounds old and Scandinavian to me. GREMLIN's near-twin, the Kremlin, is also in a clue—[Kremlin feature] is a DOME.
  • [Bay south of Staten Island] is the RARITAN.
  • [Bird of prey known to reach speeds of over 200 miles per hour] is the PEREGRINE. I had two-word birds on the brain and suspected some sort of ERNE or GREBE thanks to some crossings.
  • [Trail type] is VAPOR. Mm-hmm, like the trails left by jets. I was thinking of hiking trails.

Favorite clues:
  • [Nut named after an Australian botanist] is the MACADAMIA. Trivia I didn't know.
  • [Day's end?] is GLO, as in Day-Glo colors.
  • [Scottish river associated with draft horses] is the CLYDE, as in Clydesdale horses. A dale is a valley, so presumably these horses are from the River Clyde's valley region.
  • [A priest, not a beast] is Ogden Nash's ONE L LAMA. Without spaces in the grid, it looks like ONE LLAMA, which would be a plausible entry only in a puzzle like Trip Payne's "Something Different"/"Wacky Weekend Warrior" puzzles. You know, Brendan Quigley is supposed to try his hand at making a puzzle like that—a wide-open grid filled with goofy, made-up phrases. I can't wait to see it.
  • [Psi look-alike] is a TRIDENT. This is an upending of a crossword staple, cluing PSI as a trident-shaped Greek letter.