May 30, 2009

Sunday, 5/31

PI 9:03
LAT 7:41
NYT 7:32
BG 6:29
CS 3:27
NYT diagramless 16 minutes

Kelsey Blakley's New York Times crossword, "Odd One Out"

Well, you can fill in the whole puzzle without reading the Notepad note and without having the faintest idea of what the theme is. Then you can read the Notepad and get an anagramming puzzle...for which you don't need to do any work because 68- and 70-Across can be filled in via their clue (68A. [With 70-Across, some people are ___ crosswords]) and the easy crossings. Each of the eight long starred answers contains each of its letters twice, except for one solitary leftover letter. The eight leftovers can be anagrammed to spell NUTS OVER, but you don't need to pull out those letters and anagram them, do you? And knowing the letters-appear-twice gimmick probably wouldn't speed solving because those answers have straightforward clues and mostly easy crossings. I am left wondering what the point is, as the theme didn't give me any "wow" effect. Oh, well.

I was churning through it at breakneck speed until I hit the midsection of the right side. Ye gods, that zone worked me over:

  • 46D. [*Real work] is STRENUOUS EFFORT. (The U stands alone.) I had the bottom part early on.
  • 47D. [It may be tapped] clues a TREE TRUNK yielding maple sap.
  • 55A. ["Gloria ___" (hymn)] is completed by PATRI.
  • 60A. [King of England, 946-55] is EDRED. He is not among the most famous 20 or 30 English kings.
  • 65A. [Montana Indians] clues CREES, which are much more often clued as being in Canada.
  • 56D. [Italian Renaissance composer Banchieri] was named ADRIANO. He is not among the most famous 20 or 30 Italian Renaissance creative types.
  • 84A. [You name it] cleverly clues a NOUN.
  • 35D. The [1967 #1 hit whose lyrics begin "What you want / Baby, I got it"] is RESPECT. I know, you all got that one right off the bat. I'm terrible with lyrics, and wasn't sure if RES**** might be a two-word song. Those crossings were not helping me!
  • 72A. [Paint choice] is the TINT you have the paint colored rather than a kind of paint.
It wasn't all a grumblefest, I promise. I liked these things:
  • 23A. I like the theme entry UNITARIAN CHURCH, the [Religious affiliation of John Adams and William Howard Taft], because a couple gay friends have found the Unitarians to be welcoming. ATHEISM, a [Lack of faith], also pleases me.
  • 94A. The SKY is the [Ocean's reflection].
  • 4D. A [Dead giveaway?] is the deceased's ESTATE.
  • 7D. [The Osmonds, e.g.] are UTAHNS.
  • 25D. [Sea lily, e.g.] is a CRINOID. Crinoids are also called feather-stars, and they're cousins of starfish. Excuse me, sea stars. But on SpongeBob, they're starfish.
  • 45D. [Beta blocker?] without a question mark would be a blood pressure medicine. With it, it's the VHS, which conquered the Betamax videotape format.
  • 117D. Why did I know with just the first E that [She can be polled] clued a EWE? I couldn't tell you. What is polling? Oh! The dictionary tells me it's cutting off an animal's horns.
In the underwhelming category, we have some -ER people and an -EST superlative. A [Telecaster] is an AIRER. A [Jester, e.g.] is an AMUSER. An ENTICER is a [Siren] luring the DESIRERS, or [Those with yens]. The superlative is MINUTEST, or [Least]. It's got plenty of Google presence, but some of those hits are typos for "minutes."

There's some crosswordese sprinkled throughout the grid, too—OLEO and STERE, STRIAE and NEE, that sort of stuff. And DIESEL OIL is clued as [Semi fill-up]. Is there such a substance? If there is, I don't think it's what truckers buy at the gas pump—that'd be diesel fuel or diesel. Diesel oil may be motor oil designed for diesel engines.

Francis Heaney's NYT second Sunday puzzle, a diagramless crossword

Diagramless fans are especially fond of puzzles that draw a picture, aren't we? Here, the diagram ends up depicting a spiral, which adds visual oomph to the theme. My spiral spills over by two columns on the right side of the grid because I settled on a starting square after figuring out the first four and a half rows, and I assumed the answers would spill to the left more. (The correct starting square is the fifth one.) Not a tragedy, as there's plenty of room in the right margin for a couple more answers.

The theme entries are:
  • 12A. [Source of an osmena pearl] is the NAUTILUS SHELL. Raise your hand if you have no idea what an osmena pearl is. *raising hand*
  • 32A. CEPHALOPOD is a [Creature in a 12-Across].
  • 40A. [Shape of a 12-Across] is a SPIRAL, visually represented by the spiraling shape of the diagram.
  • 56A. [Like a 12-Across] clues CHAMBERED.
  • 61A. Just for the hell of it, OCTOPUS is stacked below CHAMBERED. It's a [Kind of 32-Across]. Kudos on the 100% defensible "kind of ___" clue, Francis.

The nonthematic fill is colorful. NICK FALDO ([Three-time Masters winner who's now a TV golf analyst]) and DANIEL BOONE ([Eponym of a Kentucky national forest]) sit up top. There's a DOPE FIEND who's a [Candidate for rehab]. [Vacation spot for people who like to pack light?] is a NUDIST CAMP. A plain old MUSIC BOX is a [Portable player that has only one song]—great clue, as it evokes questions about which iPod or MP3 player has such a limit. KUDZU ([Comic strip that shares a name with an invasive plant]) shares a Z with Tony DANZA (["Taxi" co-star] back in the day). The craziest answer is RAGNAROK—[Cataclysmic even in Norse myth that inspired "Götterdämmerung"]. There are also a lot of 3-letter answers to facilitate the spiraling diagram, which helped me a lot in solving because many of them had fairly easy clues. I was led astray by the clue for 24A, though—the [Traditional July birthstone] I know of the RUBY, but the answer here is ONYX, also 4 letters. Apparently the onyx is linked to the zodiac sign Leo, which begins in late July, but the clue borders on unfair because most sources will say July's birthstone is the ruby.

Edited to add: Holy cow! Reader Matt points out that two short answers also look to be part of the theme. The APEX is the innermost empty chamber, clued here as [Tiptop] rather than duplicating the words shell, chamber, or nautilus. I don't know if the outermost part of a nautilus creature or its shell is called END, but END is at the end of the spiral clued as [Wind up].

Edward Sessa's syndicated Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, "Double Plays"

There's a critical mass of L.A. Times crossword bloggers (well, three of us—me, PuzzleGirl, and Rex) who blithely pay little attention to Broadway shows and fail to work up much enthusiasm for themes centered on them, especially when it comes to musicals. Today's theme entries combine the titles of two plays (some musicals, some not) and concoct a clue for the resulting phrase. [Munchkin femmes fatales?], for example, are WICKED LITTLE WOMEN, combining Wicked and Little Women. The latter was made into a play? I didn't know. My favorite theme entry wins for its "ick" quotient: HAIR GREASE is clued as [Inferior pomade?], and Hair and Grease are both quite familiar. I didn't know there was a show or play called Fanny, so FANNY-PROOF, [Like sturdy chairs], didn't readily come to me. And [Jazz lovers on the Mississippi?]—BIG RIVER CATS? Yes, I know about Cats, but I can't say Big River rings a bell at all.

Interesting word of the day: ALLONYMS, clued as [Ghostwriters' noms de plume, say]. As A.Word.A.Day explains, it's "the name of a person, usually historical, taken by an author as a pen name (as opposed to using a fictional pseudonym)." Orange is a fictional pseudonym, but I read another blog where a writer uses an allonym. You know what would be a great pseudonym? Mac Homan. That's what 3D, the [1978 Village People hit], looks like when spaced differently. I envision Mac Homan as not at all a MACHO MAN.

There's more on the puzzle from PuzzleGirl at the other blog.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Going into Overtime"

Merl is the master of the entertaining Sunday theme. Sometimes his puns are groaners, yes, but he shines when it comes to cracking wise via a crossword theme. The title's a little backwards, as the OT goes into each theme answer rather than the reverse:
  • 22A. [Something Iago probblyl never said?] is "OTHELLO, IT'S ME." Is "Hello, it's me" suitably in-the-language to serve as the basis of a theme twist? I say sure, if the result is funny.
  • 26A. [Singer who's never forgotten her roots?] is VIKKI CARROT. Does anyone younger than me have any familiarity with Vikki Carr? She lives in the same part of my brain as Vicki Lawrence, which is to say that I don't really know anything about Vikki Carr either. Slightly before my time, I think.
  • 41A. ["Okay, dog, you happen to be eating my most valuable baseball card"] clues MEL OTT'S IN YOUR MOUTH. Thank you for getting the dog concept in there, Merl.
  • 55A. THE OLD BALLOT GAME is [Chad checking?].
  • 69A. [Why I'm still waiting to take off?] is that GODOT IS MY COPILOT. I laughed out loud at this one, and so did my husband when I read it to him. Waiting for Godot + aviation + cheesy "God is my co-pilot" bumper stickers = win.
  • 85A. [Studies helicopters?] is THINKS ROTATIONALLY.
  • 102A and 110A are a father-and-son pair, Carl and Rob Reiner. ROBOT REINER is [Artoo Detoo's favorite director?] and CAR LOT REINER is a [Director who's been around the block a few times?].

In the shorter answers, I duped myself into thinking the 3-letter [On-the-rack item?] (17A) was a BRA...but the answer turned out to be HAT. Whoops. Looking at 62D, I assumed there was an adjacent-key typo in the clue for GATES. Robert GATES is the [DOD boss], after all. But what Merl was going for was Bill GATES, the Microsoft [DOS boss].

Favorite non-theme clue: [Rocky greeting] for YO, ADRIAN. When I see "rocky" in a clue, I think of IBEXes gamboling on the TORs. WHO'S NEXT is a seminal album by The Who, but it's clued as [Waiting room query]. Thanks to songs like "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again," I like WHO'S NEXT even with a waiting room clue.

Toughest clues: [Samoa's monetary unit] is the TALA. GEMSBOK is a [Large antelope]. ALTHORNS are certain [Brass instruments]. There are two old-school crosswordese actresses: THEDA Bara is clued as the [First name of "The Vamp"], and [Actress Negri] is POLA.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle in Across Lite, "Big Bucks"

The theme is a little flat, as it looks like most of the theme entries are about wealth, but then MISS MONEYPENNY doesn't connote wealth. And ROLLING IN DOUGH means "wealthy," but most of the other answers just include words that mean "wealth." So it feels uneven. And then there are a handful of woeful entries that make me say, "Oh, Henry, you're better than this." ELEMI and ANENT at least are old-school crosswordese that long-time solvers don't blink at. But VENITE? That's the [95th Psalm] and not a familiar word or crossword entry. UPOLU? It's a [Volcanic Samoan island], apparently. Better are ZAFTIG, MCGRUFF, TYLENOL, and even the Sea of OKHOTSK (Russian inlet).

You know, I'd write more about the puzzle if there were more of an audience for it. But when it's been a month and a half since it was in the newspaper and there are just those of us who use or Will Johnston's Puzzle Pointers page who are still thinking about the puzzle...the motivation dwindles.

Updated again Sunday evening:

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy themeless "Sunday Challenge"

Aww, another easy themeless? I crave crazy-tough clues, I do.

The QWERTY KEYBOARD is a [Standard typing setup], all right. Joining it among the more lively answers here are these:
  • JAKARTA is [University of Indonesia location]. Never heard of the school, but Jakarta's the best-known city in Indonesia so that was inferrable.
  • WARNER BROTHERS has certainly done a lot since then, but back in the day it was the ["Casablanca" studio].
  • You'd think TIBETAN would be a common 7-letter crossword answer with the alternating consonant/vowel pattern and nothing more unusual than a B, but it really isn't. Clued as [The Dalai Lama, for one].
  • What's [Gumption]? It's MOXIE or spunk.
  • Samoa's crosswordese capital Apia moves to the clue side of things. [Apia natives] are SAMOANS.