June 17, 2009

Thursday, 6/18

NYT 4:16
LAT 3:50
CS 6:43 (J—paper)
Tausig untimed

PuzzleGirl tipped me off Wednesday afternoon that someone following American Idol finalist Anoop Desai's Twitter feed sent him a link to this here blog:

Anoop! Tell your friends! And work Diary of a Crossword Fiend into your patter when you perform on the Idol tour. I wish you great success in your career because once you're famous beyond Idol, you could achieve crossword immortality. Your first and last name are both 60% vowels and would be a boon to crossword makers. I'm tired of ANODE and "thrown for A LOOP" and I am ready for some ANOOP. And DESAI! Esai Morales is in crosswords all the time. Mr. Desai, you could dominate.

(Thanks for the tip, PuzzleGirl.)

Patrick Blindauer's New York Times crossword

My initial reaction to Patrick's puzzle is that it's a fresh and delightful creation perfectly keyed to the expected Thursday difficulty level, with lively fill, some crunchy clues, and an entertaining theme. The theme answers are familiar phrases whose final words end with a silent E, but the E's have been changed to A's:

  • 17A. [Hospital employee's role as an opera girl?] is NURSE'S AIDA. I first had NURSE'S AIDE in there, paying no mind to the "opera girl" part of the clue and not thinking about whether SEA or SEE is the [Last word of "America the Beautiful"]. (It's "from sea to shining SEA.")
  • 26A. [What Starkist decided to do for "Charlie"?] is NAME THAT TUNA. I would be terrible at the game show Name That Tune.
  • 43A. Your furniture order might have a delivery date, and DELIVERY DATA could be [A girl, born 8:48 a.m., weighing 6 pounds 13 ounces, e.g.?].
  • 58A. RUBIK'S CUBA is [Where a Hungarian toy inventor vacations in the Caribbean?]. It's good to see this guy used for a higher purpose than having ERNO bail the constructor out of a tight spot, no?
I like the theme's multiple surprises/punchlines. Somehow TUNA and CUBA strike me as inherently amusing tonight. In the non-theme fill, LEX LUTHOR ([Villain from DC] Comics) and his DELISH ["Yum!"] PIE CRUSTS ([Cobbler bottoms]) are the stars. How about that PIE CRUSTS clue, eh? [Cobbler bottoms] could also be shoe bottoms used by a cobbler. Two "court" clues hinge on different meanings; TAPES are [Hard-to-refute evidence in court], while MVPS in basketball are [Court stars, maybe, in brief].

Assorted other clues and answers:
  • 20A. [Swear words?] clue "I DO."
  • 34A. IONS gets an unfamiliar clue: [Carbonium and others]. Lucky guess there.
  • 47A. [You might be safe with them] clues baseball UMPS.
  • 54A. The SALON is [Where some dye for a living].
  • 56A. [Band from Japan] is an OBI. Ah! Great clue. Band of fabric, not musical group. I don't recall seeing that clue before.
  • 8D. My young son Ben always knows the answers to the Star Wars clues. [His planet of exile is Dagobah]? That's YODA. Where was he before exile? My son tells me no one knows Yoda's home planet.
  • 18A. Things aren't as ["...bad as they ___"] SEEM. Strange fill-in-the-blank phrase fragment in the clue. Anyone else think of the Dennis Rodman autobiography, Bad As I Wanna Be? No? Just me?
  • 25D. [Most of the Ten Commandments, basically] are BANS. Started out with SINS here, but that didn't work with Bob William BARR, [Attorney general before Reno].
  • 27D. TIPSY is clued as [A little stiff?]. Has anyone used "stiff" to mean "drunk" in the last 40 years? "Pour me a stiff drink," sure, but not "I sure am stiff." Speaking of which, we had dinner in Wrigleyville tonight. Sure, the game had ended four hours earlier, but that didn't mean people weren't still reeling down the sidewalk.
  • 46D. I love the word AMOK. It means [Every which way], which makes me wonder why I never saw that Clint Eastwood/orangutan movie.
  • 52D. Say what? Who? PETE is [Black ___, archnemesis of Mickey Mouse]. Any relation to the Dutch tradition of Zwarte Piet, Santa's helper in blackface? No, apparently Mickey's enemy is a ginormous anthropomorphized cat or bear. Pete's first appearance was as a "collector of rare cross word puzzles" in a 1925 short, "Alice Solves the Puzzle":

I love the serendipity of finding things like these in the process of Googling something unfamiliar. A '20s crossword cartoon! I had no idea such a thing existed. Thanks, Patrick and Will, for sending me down that route with the PETE clue.

Updated Thursday morning:

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "I Need a Plumber"—Janie's review

Context is everything. Today we get five familar phrases (two major-puzzle debuts, three CS) whose last word is something that might be a [Plumber's concern...]
  • 17A. [...at the think tank?] BRAIN DRAIN. Second time this week we've seen that phrase, but here in a whole new environment (and minus the LAME- prefix).
  • 19A. [...at the Defense Department?] SECURITY LEAK—or [...at Watergate?] for that matter. Think E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, John Erlichman, and The White House Special Investigation Unit—a/k/a the "Plumbers." Good times, huh? (Major-puzzle debut #1.)
  • 37A. [...at the allergist's office?] POST-NASAL DRIP. Eew. And perfect. (And major-puzzle debut #2.)
  • 55A. [...in the honeymoon suite] BRIDAL SHOWER. Three's a crowd. Make sure everything's in working order before the big night...
  • 58A. [...at Buckingham Palace?] ROYAL FLUSH. Just lol good, this one. According to the Cruciverb database (which goes back to 1997), in the half-dozen times this fill has appeared in the puzzles, this is the first time it has not been clued in relation to poker. Hear! Hear!
Not only are we treated to this lively array of theme-related phrases, but both the first two and the last two have a seven-letter overlap in the grid. The NW and SE corners are lovely, too, with their triple-6 columns. Highlight fill here includes ORIENT, SANCTA and PEEVED. There are six more 6s, two 7s (including CS debut GESTURE), and two 8s: CS first-timer MORTICIA Addams (neé Frump [!]) and AL JOLSON. That NW corner has a bit of a Latin/ROMAN thing going, too. In addition to SANCTA (plural form of sanctum), we get the meeting of ERAT (as in quod erat demonstrandum) and ET TU, those [Famous last words].

While I'm always game for puns, I'm less enamored with names. Or names in quantity at any rate—and today we do have a passel of 'em, with upwards of twenty! I won't list 'em all, but will point out: Puccini heroines MIMI and TOSCA; Glinda portrayer Billie BURKE in the movie The Wizard of Oz, based on the books by author Frank L. BAUM (and how nice that these two meet at the "B"; [Bonnie's beau] CLYDE Barrow; and [World traveler Nellie] BLY.

Some clue considerations: I was thrown by the term [Pasta pattern] for BOW-TIE, though my Roget's does confirm that "pattern" and "shape" are in the same lexical category; I enjoyed seeing OSE clued as [Verb ending]—as in verbOSE—rather than [Sugar suffix]; and I liked seeing Beatles drummer Ringo STARR clued as [He played behind Harrison]. As in George Harrison...

Some thoughts on the non-theme fill before bidding you good day: The word MEWL will forever be associated in my mind with Jacques's "Seven Ages of Man" moment in As You Like It. (Check out the link if you can. It includes a limerick that pulls things together most succintly.) And though the word ODDISH is more than [Sort of strange] to my ear, with luck it will resemble its mirror word in the puzzle and appear only as a RARITY. Finally, a [1950s Cincinnati major-leaguer] is a RED LEG. I wonder how many of 'em got their start as little boys playing that [Game for future Little Leaguers] T-BALL.

Dan Naddor's Los Angeles Times crossword

The NYT record for the most X's is 13, so it is indeed impressive that Dan included 14 X's in this puzzle. Each theme entry has two X's, and there are seven (!) theme answers; one crossing pair shares an X, but there's a spare X in the fill at 27D/35A. XX marks the spot:
  • 17A. [On some roads, it might be several miles after the last one] clues the promised NEXT EXIT. Nobody likes the foreboding of a sign warning that the NEXT EXIT isn't for another 80 miles.
  • 20A. [Like interest on some bonds] means TAX-EXEMPT.
  • 36A. The EXECUTRIX? [She may oversee an estate]. Does anyone still use the utterly unnecessary -trix ending? I mean, aside from a dominatrix, because that word sounds cooler than the gender-neutral "dominator."
  • 57A. [Halo 2 and Project Gotham Racing, notably] are XBOX GAMES. We have Wii and PlayStation 3. When the Project Natal motion capture technology is incorporated into Xbox, though, I think we're going to have to get that, too, because look how cool it is:

  • 63A. The [Route on which to "get your kicks," in a pop standard] is Route SIXTY-SIX.
  • 8D. [Fajitas, for one] are a TEX-MEX DISH. I had a partial wrong turn with TEX-MEX FOOD.
  • 29D. The [Product of a major 1999 merger] is EXXON MOBIL.

Highlights in the fill include a zillion X words as well as THE ROCK, or ([Alcatraz, familiarly]; we would also have appreciated a Dwayne Johnson clue.

For more on this puzzle, check out PuzzleGirl's L.A. Crossword Confidential WRITE-UP (which is clued here as [News article]).

Updated again Thursday afternoon and good gravy, where did the day go??

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Zero Point Zero"

0.0 is the grade point average for a student with straight F's. And this puzzle—both the answers in the grid and every clue but one—lacks A's, B's, C's, and D's. Five of the longer Across entries (11, 7, 13, 7, and 11, but not the Across 8's) are more or less theme entries: They are phrases or compound words in which both parts begin with F. But really, every single answer is a theme entry that doesn't contain A, B, C, or D. EFS (75-Across) ties it all together: [The only grading letters that appear anywhere in this puzzle (other than the present clue)]. Test-solving this baby took focus to confirm that no clue contained the forbidden letters. Let me tell you, it's not easy to write a clue for ORU, or Oral Roberts University, that doesn't include any version of "university" (since that's what the answer's U stands for) nor words like sChool, College, ACADemiC, TulsA, OklAhomA, or evAngeliCal.

My favorite answer here is JONGLEURS, or [Juggling minstrels]. Who doesn't love old French-root words relating to juggling? The clue I liked best is for MISSPELL: [Write relevently, e.g.]—the misspelling takes away a taboo A. Insanest clue: [MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMLXXX/XX] is MLIV, or 21,080/20 = 1,054. Yes, I know, the Roman numeral system uses a bar over certain numbers to represent larger numbers. But 21 M's in a row is insane, and insanity has its place in crosswords. Some solvers get their knickers in a twist over duplications of fill and for these people, allow me to say that EFS and EFF OFF do not duplicate one another. Ef is the spelled-out name of the letter F, whereas eff is a curtailment of the F-word that is substantively different. It's not the letter eff and "ef off" at all. I think Byron Walden taught me that.

Did the clues feel weird to you before you discovered the constraints under which they were written? I find I have a great capacity for overlooking clue weirdness and needing another cue to recognize cluing constraints.