May 12, 2009

Wednesday, 5/13

Onion 4:51
BEQ 3:56
NYT 3:15
LAT 2:57
CS 6:43 (J—paper)

Nancy Kavanaugh's New York Times crossword

Nancy Kavanaugh presents an instant puzzle: JUST ADD WATER (58A) and the theme will appear.

  • [Spicy bar fare] includes BUFFALO WINGS. Water buffalo are bovines. An erstwhile crossword denizen, the anoa, is a small water buffalo or, if you prefer, a Celebes ox. This theme entry threw me for a loop because "water wings" are those little floaty arm cuffs small children wear in the wading pool, but this "water ___" phrase is an incidental finding.
  • [Yellow] or chicken is LILY-LIVERED. Monet's water lilies are classic Impressionist paintings.
  • TABLE TENNIS is a [Game to 11 points]. Will Shortz is a huge table tennis enthusiast, so I'll bet he got a kick out of accepting this puzzle. The clue's accuracy, I imagine, is unimpeachable. The water table is essentially "the 'surface' of the ground water in a given vicinity."

The Middle East accounts for three answers. An IRANI is a [Certain Oriental rug maker]. An OMANI is a [Muscat native]. And YEMEN is a [Red Sea land]. Europe rings in with NEIN (German for "no"), or [Frau's "forget it"]; NAE, a Scottish [Kiltie's turndown]; the French phrase Les ETATS-Unis; EUR., [Where It.'s at]; [Zuider ___] ZEE; and DADA, [Jean Arp's movement] in the European art tradition. Hawaii is on the board with two: UKES are [Luau strings] and a LEI [may have plumerias or orchids].

Most likely trouble spot: Where TRURO, the [Cape Cod town], meets several intersecting answers. DR. LAO was a [1964 Tony Randall title role]. [Having a rough knotted surface] clues NUBBY, as in a nubby, bumpy knit. An ARIL is a crosswordese word meaning [Seed covering]. And then there's the two-word answer ONE CUBIT—[18 inches, give or take].

Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club puzzle

By the way, I hear this Saturday's NYT puzzle will be a collaboration between Tyler Hinman and Byron. Should be a fun one—with a touch of evil.

The Onion theme is TEABAGGING, the [Actual protest activity for tax-and-spend opponents that sets the tone for this puzzle's theme]. Teabagging is not just a tax protest, it's also a sex term relating to the balls. So the rest of the theme entries also have sexual connotations (don't ask me what they all are), but are clued as non-lewd protests with embarrassing double-entendre names:
  • [Inauguration Night protest activity for vandalizing foes of the new administration?] is BALL SACKING, as in pillaging of the Inaugural Balls.
  • [Protest activity for farm subsidy opponents?] is SALAD TOSSING.
  • A male chicken is called a cock, so COCK BLOCKING is clued as a [Protest activity for PETA members against Tyson Foods].
  • SNOWBALLING could be a [Protest activity for ANWR drilling proponents against EPA officials?]. Um, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has snow? No idea what the off-color meaning is here.
  • [Protest activity for Cheney opponents as he left the White House in January?] is DICK WAVING. Did you catch Wanda Sykes' comedy at the White House Correspondents dinner? She said Cheney is so scary, she's told her children if they have to choose between getting in a car with Dick Cheney or getting in a car with a stranger, you go with the stranger.
There are two full names from the music business appearing opposite each other in the grid. CLEO LAINE and Motley Crue's VINCE NEIL. Nice contrast. [Today's 20-somethings, as a group] are GEN Y; my husband has an Aunt Geny, but she's 70-something. Never heard of METALLO, the [Kryptonite-powered cyborg supervillain]—I mean, I probably saw a movie with this villain but sure don't recognize the name. I never knew ZONIAN was the word for a [U.S. citizen living near the Panama Canal, once]. An unusual partial, ALAS I, completes ["___ Cannot Swim" (2008 Laura Marling album]. Laura Marling is 19 and thus part of GEN Y. Did you need all the crossings to get LEHUA, the [Hawaiian hardwood tree]? I did.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Sarah Keller's CrosSynergy puzzle, "If the Shoe Fits"—Janie's review

The theme of this enjoyable puzzle—shoe styles—is spelled out in the second half of each of the two-word theme fill. You won't find the Sirius Stiletto among the options, but you will find:
  • 20A: JOHNNIE WALKER [big name in blended Scotch whisky]. I messed myself up some by trying to make that first name JOHNNY... This Mr. Walker's first puzzle appearance, btw.
  • 34A: GASOLINE PUMP [Where to buy regular or high-test]. Another debut phrase for the puzzles.
  • 41A: RAILROAD FLAT [Apartment in which the rooms are connected in a line]. This phrase is making its CS debut. Manhattan has lots of RAILROAD FLATs. How about in your neck o' the woods?
  • 56A: WATER MOCCASIN [Venomous semiaquatic snake]. This creature has appeared only one other time in a CS puzzle, and in two others as well—one of which used the same theme, but had only three theme entries.
So that's it for the theme. But that's not it for fill that's making its first appearance. BELLMAN, a variation of "bellhop" is taking a bow, as are TIP JAR and LIE AWAKE (well, for these two, a CS bow anyway). All of these feel very fresh to me and not merely because they're first-timers. They have a real specificity to them in the kinds of images they conjure up. This is a good thing.

I seemed to like this puzzle from the get-go. While its connotation is not that of a happy place, TORA Bora is still a place that grabs our attention; CALEB Carr's The Alienist was one of the grizzliest books I've ever read. I was glad to be reminded, too, of author ALISON Lurie, whose literate The War Between the Tates I read years ago. And it was refreshing to see Arthur ASHE clued not as a world-class tennis player, but in conjunction with his three-volume series [A] Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete. "Arthur! Arthur!"

Back to the map of the world, we get good ol' domestic TERRE Haute, IN, but we also get the more exotic KASBAH [Old section of Algiers]. This one led me to investigate the differences between KASBAH and Casbah. (Haloscan can be a bit frustrating, sending you back to the home page as it does after visiting a link, but sometimes it's worth the trip. Give it a go.) And then, from this site of "greatest film misquotes", there's this on the subject:
"Come with me to the Casbah," followed by "we'll make beautiful music together" - was not said by Charles Boyer to co-star Hedy Lamarr in Algiers (1938); it was said by cartoon characters Yosemite Sam and Pepe LePew in subsequent Looney Tunes cartoons, among others; in fact, animator Chuck Jones based the Warner Brothers cartoon character Pepe LePew on Charles Boyer's Pepe Le Moko.
While we're in movie-land, there's not only producer Marcus LOEW, but also SOME Like It Hot, Citizen KANE (and not Citizen Ruth...), Keystone KOP, HAN Solo, ILSA Lund.

ALEC Baldwin is clued wonderfully: [A Baldwin, but not a piano]. Sweet! And there are lots of other lively clues: [Grace period?] for AMEN; [Ducktail applications for GELS; and loads of alliteration with [Seaside souvenir], [Genesis gent], [Stable sound], [Black, to Blake],[High-spirited horse], [Valley of the Vineyards]. (Nice, too, how NEIGH, that [Stable sound] is in grid-proximity to STEED, the [High-spirited horse].)

Does this puzzle have perhaps too many names and pop culture references? Perhaps. I haven't even mentioned all of them. But each name seemed to trigger some other connected thought. That kept things interesting for me. Oh—and I almost forgot—the crossword-friendly ORIOLE [Baltimore player] found its way here, too. So, really, what's not to like (said the girl from Baw'mer...)?!

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "P.B.R. Me A.S.A.P."

Between IHOP and the Jewel, I'm out of free time this morning. Medical editing! Puzzle editing! Work awaits. So, quickly:

The theme is phrases that, like Brendan's beloved Pabst Blue Ribbon, have P.B.R. initials. POINT BLANK RANGE, a PUSH BUTTON RADIO, and Colin Powell's famous POTTERY BARN RULE, the ["You break it, you buy it" foreign policy]. It's not the timeliest appearance of that phrase, but is it not still a fantastic 15? Highlights in the fill: BREAK A SWEAT, YO LA TENGO, FIRST DIBS. Trouble spot for me: The crossing of [Dwight Howard's team, on scoreboards] and [Naughty by Nature hit of 1991]. ORL, or Orlando, and OPP? SESTETS and TSETSES populate the bottom row in the constructor's fallback copout fill, but at least they're clued as anagrams of one another. The ERNE clue is very inside-baseball: [Bird indigenous to crosswords]. So those answers are excused, but we still have ENOTE, APIA, and SOLING reminding us that the puzzle can't all be SASHAYS and SKI PLANES.

Laura Sternberg's L.A. Times crossword

In my L.A. Crossword Confidential post, I already lauded this theme. Five colorful phrases that begin with words that can precede PEPPER (69A), in turn creating other colorful phrases? Win-win. Here are the theme answers:
  • 17A: [Beetle Bailey's boss] (SERGEANT SNORKEL). Sgt. Snorkel's dog OTTO is a much more common visitor to the crossword grid. The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band back in the day.
  • 25A: [Quasimodo's milieu] (BELL TOWER)."Sanctuary!" If you offer me bell peppers, I will request sanctuary somewhere where you cannot reach me.
  • 39A: [Swiss Miss, e.g.] (HOT CHOCOLATE MIX). Marshmallows in mine, please. Hot peppers? They have their place, but it's not in hot chocolate. Though Mexican hot chocolate has a kick to it.
  • 47A: [Physician of 1930s-'40s films] (DR. KILDARE). Was Dr. Kildare also a '60s TV show? Yes. "Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper, too?" Me, I don't care for Dr. Pepper.
  • 60A: [German dessert, American-style] (BLACK FOREST CAKE). Chocolate + cherries = winning combo. Hold the black pepper.
Throw in a LAMAZE class for a ZOMBIE mom, the twin [Rogue]s KNAVE and SCAMP, DEEP-DISH pizza, and the handful of blah bits (ICC, AEC, OAS, RESODS) can be forgiven. Plus: 69 squares of particularly rich and flavorful theme content buys a lot of good will.