June 05, 2009

Friday, 6/5

NYT 8:33
BEQ "Anything Goes" 8:08
LAT 4:17
CS 6:42 (J—paper)
WSJ 7:20

Martin Ashwood-Smith's New York Times crossword

Well, it's midnight and I was out for margaritas this evening, so I'm delighted to have finished Martin Ashwood-Smith's crossword without errors. And I need to get to bed, so if I have a lick of sense in my head, I'll keep the blogging short.

This 66-word puzzle is fairly low on the word count scale, but lacks MAS's trademark triple stacks. Instead, the center of this all-the-way-symmetrical grid features 15's bracketing 9's criss-crossing in a big blotch of white space. ("Blotch of white space" = good.) Let's take a look at some of the answers and clues:

  • 1A. An [Important church] is a MINSTER, as in Westminster Cathedral.
  • 15A. The [Bob Marley classic] that fits into a 7 is "ONE LOVE." NOWOMANNOCRY would be a kick-ass 12-letter answer, wouldn't it?
  • 18A. For [Fictional psychiatrist], with an R in square two, I wanted it to start with DR. But it's TV's FRASIER Crane.
  • 32A. [Poorhouse bedding] is a STRAW MATTRESS. In which decade/century/country?
  • 42A. SALT? [It's often pinched]. None on my margarita glass rim, please.
  • 43A. [Act rudely, in a way] clues STARE. I started with SLURP and contemplated other bodily function words.
  • 50A. You like an ORATION? [It may begin with an exordium].
  • 56A. [Got high gradually] is CREPT UP. Wouldn't that be great drug slang?
  • 1D. MOTHERS? [They deliver] babies. Well, unless they adopt, or become mothers via marrying someone with a kid, or use a gestational surrogate, But in general, yeah.
  • 8D. [Billy the Kid used one for his nickname] is a great clue for DEFINITE ARTICLE.
  • 10D. [Half of a Disney duo, with "the"] is Beauty's compadre, the BEAST. Not Lady's fellow dog, the Tramp.
  • 11D. AHS are clued [They often mean "I see"]. Ah, yes.
  • 21D. [One between two cardinals?] is NORTHEAST, which is between the cardinal directions of north and east.
  • 27D. The RASSLER is [Part of a backwoods mix-up]. I started with RASSLIN'.
  • 34D. EDA LeShan gets the boot: [___ Reiss Merin, babysitter player in "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead"]. Who? She also played Older Woman on Plane in 1996's The Pompatus of Love. I'll bet that was a seminal role.
  • 39D. Wiley [Post, for one] was an AVIATOR.
  • 40D. Is MISTUNE a real word? It's clued with [Make a B instead of an A?].
  • 57D. [Peruvian capital?] isn't a city or a currency—it's the letter PEE. Which reminds me of my El ride home tonight. One never expects to see a pair of tighty whities left behind on a seat, but one does expect a certain aroma in the end of the train car.

Hey, it's only 12:22. That was quick. Good night, all!

Updated Friday morning:

Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Across Beantown"―Janie's review

Ray Hamel is one highly accomplished and prolific constructor, who has been dazzling us with his puzzles for years. I'm a relatively new crossword addict who loves just about any puzzle that comes her way and who's not overly sensitive to issues of "quality of fill" per se. But I've come to understand that a first-rate puzzle needs a theme that delivers in a consistent, all-of-a-kind way. Given Ray's expertise, I have to say that the obvious inconsistencies in today's theme left me scratching my head. A lot.

"Across Beantown" gives us five phrases, the first word of which is also the name of a kind of bean. The premise is just fine. Here are the five:
  • 20A. COFFEE SHOP [Stereotypical cops' hangout]
  • 25A. SNAP BACK [Recover quickly] (Also part of the slogan for Stanback, an aspirin powder that's been around for almost a century. Couldn't find an audio clip but can still hear, "Snap back—wiiiiiith Stanback!")
  • 40A. STRING ORCHESTRA [Group with members of the violin family only] Beautiful fill.
  • 52A. NAVY PIER [Chicago landmark] I've never been there but it looks spectacular in these pix.
  • 59A. GREEN THUMB [Gardening talent]

So we have COFFEE bean, SNAP bean, STRING bean, NAVY bean, and GREEN bean. But... unlike its theme-mates, I've yet to enjoy steamed or baked COFFEE beans as a side dish to an entrée. How did this one make the cut? Additionally (but not critically in the right context), it seems that, botanically speaking, the COFFEE bean isn't a bean at all...

This leave us with SNAP bean, STRING bean, NAVY bean, and GREEN bean. Leaving "NAVY bean" alone (the sole legume here), the remaining three are all names for the same exact vegetable. If the goal as stated was to take us "Across Beantown," why not really mix it up, not only by keeping STRING ORCHESTRA and NAVY PIER and COFFEE SHOP, but also by giving us, say, JELLY FISH or MISTER AMERICA or VANILLA SKY? But however you decide,
please, please stay consistent within the theme. If my expectations are high, it's that I've been spoiled with the good stuff, so to encounter this less-than-air-tight theme really was a let down.

What wasn't a let down and should also be noted is the way the theme fill overlaps in the grid—both 20 and 25A, and 52 and 59A—to create "split-level," grid-spanning theme fill (in addition to the 15 at 40A).

In the non-theme fill, I also liked (a lot) UNDERDOG (a CS debut) with its [Cinderella team] clue, and IN MY ROOM (in its major-puzzle debut)—and even CS-debut HANGNAIL, because it surprised me so.

There are several nice clue pairs: [Where to see stars] for ONTV and then "CATCH [a Falling Star"...]; [Deeply asleep] for OUT, followed by [Listening to Muzak, perhaps] for ON HOLD (since I tend to equate the mind-numbing effect of "listening to Muzak" to being "deeply asleep"...); and that bi-polar pairing, in the list and in the grid, of [Hysterical] for MANIC with [Cheerless] for BLEAK.

Completely new to me and therefore [Not a walk in the park] HARD were the Indy 500's Bobby RAHAL, Pulitzer poet MONA Van Duyn, and, um, the [Org. that listens for alien signals] SETI. Where have I been?!

Gareth Bain's Los Angeles Times crossword

Gareth's placed six theme entries into his grid, with 19- and 58-Across intersecting the Down theme entries and partly stacked with the other Across ones. I was thinking the theme would be described as "et cetera" or "et alii," but then I came upon 59-Down, ET TU: [Famous last words (and homophonically, a hint to this puzzle's theme)]. Each theme phrase as an "ET too" as ET has been added to the end of the first syllable to change the meaning:
  • 19A. [Genetic coding for an official legislative trip?] is JUNKET DNA. Mind you, legislative trips are not organic beings and have no DNA—but junk DNA is a familiar concept.
  • 23A. [NASA scrapheap?] is a ROCKET PILE. I misread that as [NBA scrapheap?] and wondered at the editorializing about the Houston Rockets' skills.
  • 51A. BASSET SOLO is a [Long-eared dog's performance?].
  • 58A. [Young hen's bar bill?] is a PULLET TAB.
  • 2D. A section of the [Horn section?] might be called CORNET ROW.
  • 34D. SOCKET HOP is clued as a [Dance after getting a shock from an outlet?]. Don't try this at home, folks.

I misled myself at 12D, [Davis of "The Little Foxes"]. First I went with OSSIE, who must be the most common Davis in crosswords. Then I conflated this movie with Little Darlings and wondered if a younger GEENA Davis had been in that. Then I thought about Tatum O'Neal being in that movie—and oh, look, there she is, incognito in 17A as [Jazz great Art] TATUM in the next section I turned to in the puzzle.

A few clues:
  • The LAB is a [Place to wear a coat].
  • ALOHA is a [Parting of the Pacific?].
  • [It's shaken out]...hmm, a rug? A picnic blanket in the [Great area?] of the OUTDOORS? No, table SALT.
  • APR. is the [Mo. in which the Civil War began].
  • [Hercules' neighbor] is LYRA. They're constellations. Anyone else sort of want XENA the Warrior Princess here?
  • To [Shoot with a moving camera] is to PAN.
  • [Oft-donated cells] clues OVA. Well, really, eggs aren't donated all that often. But the better answer, SPERMATOZOA, just won't fit into three squares. Speaking of egg donation, Gareth, if you hear of anyone in South Africa looking to give or receive donor eggs, send them to my pal Tertia's program, Nurture.

Rex's post at L.A. Crossword Confidential will be up shortly for more on this puzzle.

Pancho Harrison's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Capital Gains"

The title evoked a disappointed sigh: Another theme involving finance vocabulary? Oh. But then I got into the puzzle and discovered a fun and well-crafted theme in which world capitals precede a common word or phrase, and the city's last syllable partners with the first syllable of the second part to create another familiar phrase/word. That middle part is a lovely solving bonus, as the clues only point the way to the capital and its partner. Here's how the theme answers play out:
  • 23A. [Pants popular in 1970s Russia?] are MOSCOW BELL-BOTTOMS. If you've never seen the catchphrase-spawning SNL skit in which Christopher Walken calls for "more cowbell," you can watch a low-res version here.
  • 35A. WARSAW BUCKSHOT is [Ammo made in Poland?]. A sawbuck is a sawhorse or a $10 bill.
  • 52A. [Ball-handling hoopster from Serbia?] is PREDRAG STOJAKOVIC. No, wait, that's one letter too short. It's BELGRADE POINT GUARD, with grade point wedding the two.
  • 73A. [Seller of Chilean sea bass?] is a SANTIAGO FISHERMAN, with the kids' card game Go Fish in the middle.
  • 88A. A [Private eye from Iraq?] might be a BAGHDAD GUMSHOE, with the colorful bowdlerized Southern oath dadgum inside.
  • 105A. BUCHAREST ROOMMATE is [One who shares digs in Romania?]. I do find that I don't get a lot of rest in any restroom. How come "I need to get some rest" never became a euphemism for "I gotta go"?

It felt like a lot of theme even though there are only six theme entries—probably because they're long and multifaceted and entertaining. The fill's good too, with answers like NEIL SIMON, POSEIDON, The BIG SLEEP, INSIGHTS, and an AFTERLIFE. NICE GOING, Pancho!

Least familiar answer: The KIANG, or [Donkey's Asian cousin]. This cutie is the world's largest wild ass, and it's native to the Tibetan Plateau.

Brendan Quigley's blog puzzle, a wacky "Anything Goes" crossword

What fun! I always enjoyed Trip Payne's "Wacky Weekend Warrior" N.Y. Sun puzzles around April Fools Day, and now Brendan has tried his hand at the format. This 60-word grid with 18 black squares is well nigh unfillable with the sort of entries that pass muster in a standard crossword, but here, the expanses of white space can be filled by such answers as CURDS AND WHEY FLU, QUISLING SCUFFLE, B.M. SPECS, the NAFTA OPEN, CLASSIC U.N., I, BLEDSOE, and an APT SARI. Yes, many of the short answers are standard crossword fill, but there's still room in a 3 for insanity: GEV, which is VEG backwards, is clued [Tuo llihc], and YULE loses its first letter and becomes an [Og to burn on Christmas]—ah, yes, the traditional ule og. Brendan managed to include three Q's, a Z, and an X in the puzzle, too. Fun stuff, all of it!