June 09, 2009

Wednesday, 6/10

BEQ 5:14
Onion 4:49
LAT 3:24
NYT 3:16
CS 6:01 (J—paper)/2:47 (A—Across Lite)

A link to J. Zou's "Ode to Shortz" arrived yesterday in Sergio Ximenes' cruciverb-L post. J. Zou, do not despair! We can help you! Try reading How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle. (P.S. Sunday's really not so scary—it's like a Thursday on steroids. But have you looked at Saturday?)

Richard Silvestri's New York Times crossword

Isn't it a shame that in a puzzle with a FORTY-FOUR theme, 44-Across is the nonmellifluous TEABAG ([Earl Grey holder])? FORTY-FOUR is at 55-Across (were it at 44-Across, the theme clues would all contain spoilers), and it relates to the other four theme answers:

  • 18A. [Element number 55-Across] is RUTHENIUM, lucky #44 on the periodic table. There. Now you've got one gimme for the Sporcle quiz in which you have to name all the elements.
  • 23A. HANK AARON is the [Atlanta Brave who wore the number 55-Across].
  • 35A. [President number 55-Across] is BARACK OBAMA.
  • 49A. SUPER BOWL is clued with [Feb. 7, 2010, the date of this event's number 55-Across]. Awkward to have to phrase it that way, with the date first. Why does the clue begin with the date? Why not focus on the noun: [This event's number 55-Across is set for Feb. 7, 2010].

Answers I liked:
  • BACTERIA! They're the subject of [Study of Louis Pasteur].
  • MANILA is the [Capital founded by Spanish invaders, 1571]. My aunts-in-law live there. Hello, Tita Dolly and Tita Geny!
  • I've been on the BORMAN, [Apollo astronaut Frank] BORMAN. Indiana named an expressway after him that's just east of Chicago.
  • GUANACO is the South American [Cousin of a camel]. Aww, cute! The llama is a much closer cousin than the camel.

What didn't quite sit right with me:
  • CHINA SEA is clued as a [Sight from Taiwan]. Taiwan's between the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Which sea, pray tell, is the CHINA SEA?
  • ROSEATE is clued as [Promising]. Now, I know this adjective as it applies to birds, but I've not seen the metaphorical application of the word. Do y'all use this word? Would it enhance my vocabulary to use it that way, or would I just attract birders?
  • LINE A is the [Top of some forms]—the forms that label the lines with letters rather than with numbers or just with fields like "name" and "street address." The linea alba is the fibrous strip running down the middle of one's abdominal muscles. I don't suppose that's more Wednesday-friendly than LINE A?
  • [Start of the 13th century] is MCCI, or 1201. Nobody loves Roman numeral crossword answers, but at least this one doesn't have a pope/emperor year clue.
  • ACER is clued as a [Stellar server]. Nobody loves Maleska-type fill (well, except for the folks who decry the fun-ification of the NYT crossword under Will Shortz), but man, I wish we could go back to [Maple genus]. I just Googled Federer acer and found a bunch of web pages in which tennis legend Roger Federer and Acer brand computers are both mentioned. Hitting aces doesn't make you an ACER!

Updated Wednesday morning:

Martin Ashwood-Smith's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Time Pieces"—Janie's review

This well-made puzzle does not deal with hour- glasses or wrist-watches or sundials, but with what those solid objects measure: time itself. The three theme phrases each contain a unit of time. The first two phrases are making their CS debuts, the third is appearing for the third time and, for the third time, in a puzzle of Martin's own making. Without wasting any more time, those theme phrases are:
  • 17A. RIGHT THIS SECOND [Pronto]
  • 31A. UP TO THE MINUTE [Very latest]
  • 49A. THE ELEVENTH HOUR [Final moment]
Primarily because of the cluing, this was a far more straightforward solve than yesterday's, but no less enjoyable. Once again the tight theme fill is complemented by a fine array of non-theme entries.

Let's start with the musical mini-theme which gives us the brilliant and controversial [Conductor Herbert von] KARAJAN (appearing for the first time ever in a major puzzle]; ["William Tell" composer] Gioacchino ROSSINI; [TAJ] MAHAL (well, there's nothing in the clue to say it couldn't be...); and [John Lennon's lady] and wife and collaborator YOKO ONO—appearing with her whole name, thank-you-very-much, and doesn't it look great in the grid?

UP ANCHOR [Prepare to set sail] also looks good in the grid, but took me a while to parse. I had trouble seeing that the correct answer was a phrase and not a single word with PANCHO as its core...

Whether by plan or pure chance, PETTIEST [Most small-minded] and MOODIEST [Most temperamental] mirror each other in the grid—and both are CS firsts. Talk about two ways no one would aspire to be described... Still—fun to see 'em both in the puzzle. Also fun to see the pairing of [Boxer Mike] TYSON and FISTS [Boxers' weapons]—though I prefer not to have a close encounter with either! (Anyone see The Hangover? Iron Mike is almost adorable in his plot-critical cameo.)

Other colorful fill: SPECTRA [Rainbows], which is the plural of "spectrum" (of color); KERMIT; ANNOTATE; MUSTANGS, clued as [Sporty Ford models]. (Am reading Sue Grafton's T is for Trespass and detective Kinsey Milhone's current set of wheels is a 1970 Mustang.)

[Take the wrong way?] has nothing to do with misperception, but does remind us that it's not a good idea to STEAL; and [One with a supporting role?] is a less-than-direct way to clue LEG.

The one word I'd be happy never to encounter again in a puzzle is GREATEN [Become more important]. It's an archaic word also meaning to "increase the size of," and not a word we encounter in contemporary/everyday usage. Writing months after the Great Fire of London, Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary: "14 June 1667, Every thing concurred to greaten the fire." But that was then, and this is now.

Still, in a puzzle this good, this is also small potatoes!

And here's Orange again. Janie's right—nobody uses the word GREATEN any more. "Embiggen" is a far more cromulent word. How odd, though, to have a 70-word themed puzzle that falls in a Mondayish amount of time. All those 7's and 8's looked fearsome, but had easy CrosSynergy clues.

Donna Levin's Los Angeles Times crossword

My longer write-up of this puzzle is over at L.A. Crossword Confidential. A while back, Jim Horne of Wordplay asked what I thought about an e-mail he'd received from a woman who wanted more stereotypically female content in the NYT puzzle and bristled at the sports and automotive content that she felt was anathema to her. I hope she's also doing the L.A. Times crossword, because today's knitting theme would be right up her alley.

I'll agree that there's too damn much baseball in crosswords, but I don't know that knitting and other handicrafts are the solution—my XX chromosomes do not include a handicrafts gene.

Here's the theme:
  • 20A. [Tingly feeling] is PINS AND NEEDLES. Ooh, I hate that.
  • 33A. DYED IN THE WOOL means [Through and through].
  • 42A. At the airport, the FLIGHT PATTERN is a [Control tower concern].
  • 57A. [Directions appropriate for the activity suggested by the last words of 20-, 33- and 42-Across] are KNIT ONE, PURL ONE.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Bag Lunch"

Today's quip theme relays a joke: EVERY TIME YOU EAT / A STEAK, A / HIPPIE'S / HACKYSACK / GOES IN THE GUTTER. It's from comedian PATTON / OSWALT.

Assorted not-so-easy clues:
  • ["___ Tahiti" (1962 James Mason comedy)] is the most out-there TIARA clue I've ever seen. Has anyone seen this movie?
  • A [Load-carrying animal] is the archaic word SUMPTER. Archaic!
  • [G squared?] is a MIL, a G being 1,000 and 1,000 squared being a million. I like this one.
  • EWOK is clued as a [Sci-fi creature whose language is based on the Chinese dialect Kalmyk]. I didn't know that, but I'll bet I can mildly impress my son by telling him this. You know what? It's probably in his Star Wars illustrated encyclopedia.
  • [Barrio hooligans] are CHOLOS. Did I learn this word from NYPD Blue or what?
  • I never heard of CHET [___ Helms, "Father" of San Francisco's "Summer of Love"].
  • THOR is the [Mjolnir-carrying god]. Wikipedia gives three other spellings—Mjǫllnir or Mjöllnir or Mjölner—but not this one. It's Thor's mighty hammer. I need to get me one of those.
  • The [Malayan isthmus] that connects the Malay Peninsula to mainland Asia is the KRA Isthmus, and Thailand and Myanmar share it. Is it just me, or has KRA been appearing in a surprising number of puzzles lately? I could swear this is the third or fourth time I've come across it in recent weeks.
  • OILSEED is pretty darned dry as fill even though [It's grown for lubricating purposes].
  • [Cavaradossi's love] is TOSCA. It was only recently that I found out that Tosca was a female character.
  • [City on the Vire]? The Vire?? That brownish, turbid waterway is not a crosswordese river. But ST. LO, which is about 1,500 years old and originally called Briovere after the river, is definitely crosswordese.

Tyler Hinman's Onion A.V. Club crossword

Smooth puzzle, Tyler. 1-Across is a cross-referenced theme answer—[Things at the beginning of 20-, 36-, and 54-Across]—so it looked like a rough start but then it wasn't. 20A is a [Setting for "The Real Housewives"], and I just read the Entertainment Weekly article about the best and worst reality shows. ORANGE COUNTY fit, while New Jersey, New York City, and Atlanta didn't. So 1-Across is...FRUITS or COLORS? CROSSWORD BLOGGERS won't fit there. Then 36A is [Electoral battleground, in modern parlance], or a PURPLE STATE. COLORS it is! I still needed lots of crossings for 54A, [Show on which Alfonso Ribeiro played Alfonso Spears]. He was on something before Fresh Prince? Yeah, it was SILVER SPOONS, which I never watched. Big deal, three COLORS—but wait, there's more! 67A is clued [What the first words of 20-, 36-, and 54-Across lack], and that's RHYMES. Lovely theme with a little surprise lurking at the bottom of the puzzle.

And now, 10 clues:
  • [Friend of Sheldon and Leonard, on "The Big Bang Theory"] is RAJ. My heart belongs to Raj from What's Happening!!. (Yes, that's a period after two exclamation points. So sue me.)
  • [Pro wrestler John who released a rap album] is CENA. Did you know this? And are you male?
  • The SOL was a [Former WNBA team from Miami]. Is that El Sol or La Sol?
  • SENTRA is a [Nissan brand whose name is not used in Japan]. You know what the VW Jetta is outside the U.S.? The Bora—and bora is a wind, just like the scirocco. What, no Volkswagen Föhn?
  • [Comedian Sean known for "The Man Song"] is unknown to me. MOREY? My heart belongs to Morey Amsterdam of The Dick Van Dyke Show.
  • The FRANC is a [Liechtensteiner's currency].
  • [Sinks it] in golf is equivalent to HOLES OUT.
  • [The forty in a forty: Abbr.] are OZS. Bring on the malt liquor!
  • [Internet gamer's complaint] is LAG. Yes! I am vexed by browser lag when I play Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook.
  • MEAN STREETS is indeed a [Scorsese classic], and a terrific crossword answer to boot.
  • This list goes to eleven. Or thirteen. There's a goal-sport trio: OLE is the [Primera Liga cry] at a futbol game, and [Presents with a red card, perhaps] means EJECTS in soccer. [Like some hockey shots] means ON GOAL.