June 30, 2009

Wednesday, 7/1

BEQ 5:11
Onion 4:57
NYT 3:48
LAT 2:50
CS 6:19 (J―paper)

David Kahn's New York Times crossword

David Kahn is the King of Tribute Crosswords, and today he pays tribute to the late MICHAEL / JACKSON. This ["Farewell"]/BYE puzzle is being published online just five days after Jackson's death, whereas it took a few days more for the NYT to publish Vic Fleming's POPE BENEDICT XVI puzzle. Here's the content of the tribute theme:

  • 10D, 25D. [This puzzle's honoree] is MICHAEL / JACKSON.
  • 3D. [Classic part of a 10-/25-Down stage act] is MOONWALKING.
  • 15A. [1982 blockbuster by 10-/25-Down] is the album and song THRILLER, and yes, I remember watching the video on MTV. That was appointment TV at its best.
  • 32A. DANGEROUS is the [1991 hit album by 10-/25-Down]. The only song I know from that is "Black or White," the video for which featured faces morphing back when CGI didn't appear in laundry detergent commercials.
  • 47A. The KING OF POP is the [Nickname for 10-/25-Down].
  • 67A. FALSETTO was the [Vocal style of 10-/25-Down, at times]. "Hoooo!"
  • 27D. "GONE TOO SOON" is a [Song on 32-Across], Dangerous. I don't know it, but it's suitably elegiac for the occasion.
  • 68A. MOTOWN was the [First record label of 10-/25-Down].
  • 14A. LIONEL [Richie who wrote "We Are the World" with 10-/25-Down] doesn't belong in this puzzle.
  • 11A. SHE is the [First word of 10-/25-Down's "Billie Jean"]. Really? Not sure if the opposite answer at 69A, BYE/["Farewell"] is strictly thematic.
  • 42A. [First song on 32-Across], Dangerous, is JAM. I don't know it. I really don't know the lyrics to that song, but 40A is ["Don't you ___ for no favors" (42-Down lyric on 32-Across)], or ASK ME. That seems out of place here as it's neither mournful or from one of Jackson's more memorable songs.
  • 44D. [With 10-Down, 1975 album by 10-/25-Down] is FOREVER Michael. Elegiac, yes, but incomplete as a title.

What, no "ABC"? No "Rock with You"? With 13 solo #1 hits, it feels weird to have "JAM" (which peaked at #26) and ASK ME" in the puzzle.

Nonthematic highlights in this crossword: It's horrible to singularize a plural trade name, but I can't resist even a single SNO-CAP, or [Moviegoer's chocolate bite]; hell, I buy a box at Walgreens and eat Sno-Caps at home. [Zero] pulls double duty as AUGHT and NULL. If you posit that Romeo speaks Italian, [Romeo's love?] is AMORE. [Juan's uncle?] is how our hypothetical Juan cries "uncle": NO MAS, or "no more." [Greek leader?] is the letter ALPHA. There are a slew of these tricky clues—also the noun [Flies over Africa?] for TSETSES, [Jean Valjean, e.g.] for a NOM (French for "name"), and [Rose family member] for PETE Rose.

In the "No, no" department: No, NACHO is not a [Kind of cheese]. It's a kind of chip. And then there's an [Old fast-food chain], the Wednesday-unfriendly NEDICKS. If you're not a New Yorker (or a resident of certain other East Coast cities several decades ago), you are not likely to have heard of the Nedick's chain. On the plus side, they had an orange and green color scheme, much like this blog. 1-Across was a dead end for me, as [City SW of Syracuse] required plenty of crossings before ELMIRA emerged. If you're like me, your brain shuts down with a clue like [Middle of the second century]; first I ignore the clue and work on the crossings, trying to make sense out of the clue only if absolutely needed. With NEDICK'S, oh yeah, I had to work for CLI, or 151.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Quiet, Please"―Janie's review

If silence is golden, Paula is a very wealthy woman. Today she's given us a puzzle with four lovely and lively "quiet" phrases:
  • 20A. SILENT MOVIE [Talkie's predecessor]. This is also the title of a high-concept, very wonderful Mel Brooks COMEDY. (And isn't it nice how SILENT MOVIE and COMEDY cross.)
  • 11D. DUMBWAITER [Food-service elevator]. For a time, I lived in a six-story NYC apartment building that had been constructed in 1913. Although it was no longer operative when I moved in, a kitchen closet had been outfitted with a dumbwaiter that used to go down to the basement. The floor had long since been boarded over, but some of the pulley hardware was still in place.
  • 29A. MUTE BUTTON [It may be pressed during a conference call]. First of all, this looks to be the major-puzzle debut for this fill. Second of all, I flat out love this one. Much of my day at work is spent on the phone, and believe me―the handy mute button AIN'T just fer conference calls! It is a godsend for the call that feels like it won't end but must be endured anyway. Put the caller on mute, listen to/for the salient points, comment on the call to my colleagues, mimic shooting myself, release mute button, respond politely (having just blown off some steam...). The mute button: marvel of modern technology!
  • 59A. STILL WATERS [They may run deep]. That's what The Four Tops say―and who am I to argue with them or this CS debut?
Simply put, I had a good time solving this one. Some standout clues: [Electrically flexible] for AC-DC, [Lamb or Rice] for AUTHOR (i.e., essayist Charles or novelist Anne); [Young scientist of old teen fiction] for TOM SWIFT; and the best: [Letters from one who's shy?] for the oft-seen IOU―so that's "shy" as in "short of money" as opposed to "faint of heart."

And there's little that's BLAH about the non-theme fill. We get the fizzy COLA and CLUB SODA pair, the latter well-clued as [Splash at a bar]; or you could sip some CHAI [Spiced tea beverage]; an Independence Day reminder with RAMPARTS [Fortifications in "The Star-Spangled Banner"]; and a shout out to the CONGA [Follow-the-leader dance]. Do take a look at this clip of Rosalind Russell as Ruth Sherwood, aspiring reporter in Wonderful Town, in her comical (losing battle) to interview members of the Brazilian navy who would rather Conga! than answer her questions. Oh―and best of all: ARMY BRAT [Child on a base]―and not the kind MLB's DIMAG [Joltin' Joe] was famous for rounding.

Happily, this puzzle doesn't have lots of abbreviations. Yes, that was MLB as in Major League Baseball; and among a few others, there was also PACS, or political action committees; and OTOH―[...chatroom shorthand] for on the other hand. I do like the way OTOH sits above SOHO.

Finally, while no one has given me a SHOVE or theatened to have me SENT AWAY, I am going to take this opportunity to ["Make like a tree and leave!"]. Cheers, all!

Jack McInturff's Los Angeles Times crossword

My kid's staying home from camp today (cough, cough, sniffle, sneeze) so allow me to copy, paste, and edit material from my other blog. Today's theme is five phrases begin with words that can follow GLASS:
  • 17A. [Paintings and such] are WORKS OF ART. Glassworks are factories where glass or glass things are made. I have a small collection of glass paperweights, so I do like the output of certain glassworks.
  • 26A. If something's [Causing heads to turn], it's EYE-CATCHING. Glass eye! Let's get some Sammy Davis Jr. in here:
  • 38A. BLOWING OFF STEAM means [Releasing stress, in a way]. There may well be a lot of glassblowing going on at the glassworks.
  • 52A. JAR JAR BINKS was a [Gungan general of "Star Wars" films]? Apparently he did get promoted in Episode 1. I had a college boyfriend named Binks. Oh—glass jars are handy for storing spaghetti sauce.
  • 61A. Yes, a JAWBREAKER is a [Very hard candy]. A boxer with a weak, easily broken jaw who is particularly susceptible to being whomped by an opponent's blows is said to have a glass jaw.
  • 72A. [Dinnerware item that can precede the start of 17-, 26-, 38-, 52- or 61-Across] is GLASS.

For a rundown of a few of my favorite things in this puzzle, see L.A. Crossword Confidential.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Animal Collective"

As the title suggests, the theme has to do with collective terms for animals. Alas, most of the terms are not so familiar, and the phrases that result from combining two collective terms are merely familiar phrases without much zing. So this one left me cold. The theme:
  • 3D. [Some crickets and some snakes] are an ORCHESTRA PIT. "Orchestra of crickets," "pit of snakes."
  • 9. [Some racehorses and some gorillas] are a STRING BAND. "String of racehorses"? "Band of gorillas." What the heck is a STRING BAND?
  • 15D. [Some ferrets and some sharks] make up BUSINESS SCHOOL. "Business of ferrets," "school of sharks."
  • 24D. [Some ducks and some hares] are DROPPING DOWN. "Dropping of ducks" sounds like one of those trumped-up collective words that nobody actually uses. "Down of hares" must relate to Watership Down, but I don't see that as a definition of "down" in the American Heritage Dictionary.
  • 34D. [Some moles and some jays] make up a LABOR PARTY. "Labor of moles" and "party of jays"? If you say so.

Collective terms for groups of animals are like phobias—you can find massive lists of crazy words, but there might not be a strong case that anyone actually uses those words in that way. Not a satisfying basis for a crossword theme, in my opinion.

AMIDOL is a [Photo-developing compound] I've never heard of. It links VAMOOSE (a non–Michael Jackson ["Beat it!"]) and a PB AND J, but...feh. Yesterday on Cruciverb-L, Merl Reagle spoke out against the inclusion of a crappy word between two cool words in the corner of a crossword:
sometimes they're absolutely unavoidable, as in wide-open puzzles, or when theme answers get thick and close and you've already restarted the puzzle five times -- but i've been seeing these words way too much in corners and sections that have a ton of other options, and each time it looks like the reason is just to get in a word like WIFI or XBOX. a turd between two slices of homemade tuscany bread is still a turd sandwich. we can do better than this.

The corners of Brendan's puzzle are fairly wide-open, but now I'm thinking about dreadful sandwiches instead of tasty PB AND Js. "Turd sandwich": new crossword jargon!

Matt Gaffney's Onion A.V. Club crossword

U.N. INTERVENTIONS are the [Global efforts to which this puzzle's theme is dedicated], and the other five theme entries have UN added to negate a word, changing its meaning:
  • 17A. ["Justice can't be found anywhere!"] clues THE WORLD'S UNFAIR, which builds on the World's Fair.
  • 22A. The dance called the Twist turns into DO THE UNTWIST, or [Open a cheap bottle of beer?]. Now, the dance clearly relates to the verb, whereas the other theme pairs use unrelated words.
  • 31A. Actor William Hurt spins off WILLIAM UNHURT, a [Relieved U.K. headline after a royal family accident?].
  • 42A. The noun "wishing well" transforms into a verb phrase with the addition of UN. WISHING UNWELL is clued with [Usign a voodoo doll?].
  • 49A. County Cork in Ireland becomes COUNTY UNCORK, a [Champagne-loving municipal division?].

Five favorites:
  • [Plagues] are POXES. A pox on bad themes! I'm not saying Matt's theme is bad. It's quite good, actually, with a built-in "aha" moment for each theme answer. I'm just saying I want to use the word "pox" more.
  • ["___ dat" ("agreed")] clues TRU. Tru dat! I always make sure to fix people's spelling when they write "true that."
  • [Sue, notably] is a T. REX—in particular, the T. rex skeleton from South Dakota that's on display at Chicago's Field Museum.
  • [Sample stuff?] is URINE. You haven't lived 'til you've handed over a 24-hour urine sample in a plastic jug.
  • BONE is clued with this factoid: [It's softer than tooth, believe it or not]. I was going to say that I didn't know that, but then, didn't we all learn in grade school that tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body?