July 30, 2009

Friday, 7/31

NYT 5:38
LAT 5:26
BEQ 5:18
CS 7:49 (J—paper)
WSJ 10:44

Mike Nothnagel's New York Times crossword

Now, you could look at Mike's puzzle and say, "Wow, 72 words? That's the most he's allowed to have in a themeless. He should've been more ambitious." But the ambition is in the zing—zingy fill and some twisty Friday clues. Here are 15 favorites:

  • 17A. SALMA HAYEK is the [Oscar-nominated portrayer of Frida Kahlo] on the silver screen. Like business magnate Carlos Slim, Hayek is a Mexican of Lebanese descent. She's funny, talented, and a passionate advocate of various causes. They say she looks nice, too.
  • 22A. Being WITHIN EARSHOT is one way of being [Relatively close].
  • 35A. Do you like to order the SPECIAL when dining out? That's [Something not on the menu].
  • 37A. If your "roll" is a bagel, [Roll top?] is s SCHMEAR of cream cheese.
  • 43A. [Heads up] with a hyphen is a noun and adjective about advance warning. As a verb, it can mean CHAIRS.
  • 46A. [Where a fouled player might go] is TO THE POTTY. No, actually, it's to the FREE THROW LINE.
  • 56A. BAZOOKA JOE is a bubblegum [Comics character with a "gang"]. Do you know the gang sign?
  • 60A. "OPEN, SESAME" is a [Passage enabler] that gets you through a door. And 51A: [Passage blockers] are NOES, as in no votes in the legislature.
  • 3D. If something [Wasn't full of holes] literally or metaphorically, it HELD WATER.
  • 5D. DEAD TO RIGHTS is a colorful way of saying [Red-handed].
  • 21D. In Ireland, County [Mayo sauce?] is IRISH WHISKEY.
  • 24D, 32D. The electric charge pair! [They might store electric charges] clues EELS and [It might store an electric charge] refers to a LEYDEN JAR. Cool answer, that.
  • 44D. SWOON is a favorite word of mine. Means [Become rapturous].
  • 49D. LEOS are [Independent, noble types, it's said]. Am I not independent? And noble?
  • 56D. Take a BOW. In a concert, [It comes after the last number].

Among the tougher spots for me, there's a quote clue for the good ol' ASP: 58D: ["My baby at my breast," in Shakespeare]. That's not the same baby/breast combo mentioned in the Salma Hayek writeup. And what about 1A? A fill-in-the-blank like ["___ better be!"] looks so easy, but it took me a bit to get IT HAD. Partial at 1-Across = meh. Patrick SWAYZE is a familiar name, sure, but who is this SWAYZE that's 42A: an [Early TV news commentator famous for doing Timex ads]? John Cameron Swayze, Google tells me. Ooh, this clue's a good one: 52A: [Stars participate in it: Abbr.] clues the NHL, as in the Dallas Stars' league. How about the TORAH? 10D: [It contains 613 mitzvot]. [Vultures were sacred to him] clues ARES, and [Fast Eddie's girlfriend in "The Hustler"] is SARAH.

Overall, a really fun themeless with enough tricky clues to keep me happy and an abundance of sparkle in the fill.

Dan Naddor's Los Angeles Times crossword

Is it just me or is this the toughest L.A. Times puzzle in a good long while? Dan's last crossword made me grumble, but Brendan Quigley predicted the next go-round would be more satisfying—and so it is. Why? Let us count the ways:

1. The theme is straightforward and yet it took me a while to figure out what was going on. (Perhaps you cottoned to the theme faster than I did. It's words with an SK sound that gets flipped to become a KS sound, better known as X.)

2. There are six theme entries, but they're on the shorter side (56 theme squares in all), so...

3. There's room for plenty of lively fill, made all the more so by...

4. A relatively low word count (72), which translates to longer answers on average, with plenty of 6- to 8-letter entries.

The theme runs like this:
  • 17A. [Paul Bunyan's admission in therapy?] is I HATE TO AX, playing on "I hate to ask..."
  • 27A. [Formal attire for Dumbo?] is an ELEPHANT TUX (tusk).
  • 43A. [Plant fiber used by moonshiners?] is WHISKEY FLAX (flask). Part of me wants this to be WHIXEY FLAX.
  • 56A. [Diver's tank capacity?] is OXYGEN MAX (mask). Part of me wants the original phrase to be oskygen mask.
  • 11D. [Catchall source of revenue?] might be a MULTI-TAX (multitask). Here, the original phrase is better than the change-a-sound theme answer.
  • 36D. [Keep a Northeastern fort under surveillance?] clues VIDEO DIX (disk).

  • The braids zone up top. A [Cornrow, e.g.] is a braid, or PLAIT. And a [Dreads wearer] may be a RASTA.
  • The egg zone to the right. A [Fertilized item] is an OVULE, more or less a plant's egg. An [Italian omelet served open-faced] is a FRITTATA. And if you [Bomb big-time], you LAY AN EGG.
  • The SELIG/HALF-MAN zone puts me in mind of a description of NBA commissioner David Stern: "Every year, he looks more and more like Emperor Palpatine's offspring if the mother was a frog." I get Stern and [Baseball commissioner Bud] SELIG mixed up. Are they not, in fact, the same person? HALF-MAN is a bizarre answer, clued as [Not a whole person?]. Half-frog qualifies.
  • Random trivia! NYU is [Ex-Fed chairman Alan Greenspan's alma mater].
  • Knotty clues. [Jack's place] doesn't refer to a person, nor to a playing card—you should store a jack in the TRUNK of your car. [Like many Woody Allen characters], 8 letters? Come on! A gimme. Gotta be NEUROTIC, right? Except it's INSECURE. [You can get it from a blast]...hmm, I was thinking of nuclear fallout, but the answer is PLEASURE and the blast is just a good time. And how about that [Hockey lineup, e.g.]. Five letters, ending with a D...SQUAD! But no. It's a HEXAD, or group of six.
Updated Friday morning:

Raymond Hamel's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Foodie Workout"—Janie's review

Gosh, I love this puzzle. Each compound-word theme answer (an entity unto itself) names both something that may be ingested and an exercise move, so there's a three-for-one thing going on that is a treat. Though the remaining fill is all of the seven-letter-and-under variety, there are some nifty connections to be made between several of them that add to the liveliness of an already lively construction. With Ray's culinary-themed regimen you'll savor/execute a:
  • 20A. SAUSAGE CURL [Thick lock of hair] And at the turn of the previous century, not just for girls...
  • 34A. FISH LIFT [Salmon's way around a dam] (Oh, for a picture of a weightlifting fish—still, love this fill!)
  • 46A. SODA JERK [Ice cream sundae maker]. Are there still "soda fountains"? Is there still such a job as a "soda jerk"?
  • 61A. GARLIC PRESS [Mincing tool]. The blog page that the garlic press pic comes from bears the caption, "You could hand-mince garlic. But why?" I've used my handy garlic press only to, well, press pieces of garlic, which kind of releases the juices in them in the process. Who knew there were presses that could mince, too? Live and learn!
All save one of the themed entries appear to be major-publication firsts, and the one exception—our friend the soda jerk—looks to be a CS first. Fresh fill of the sort we see today is always an ASSET in my book.

If the fill described so far has not piqued your appetite, perhaps the SWISS [Variety of cheese] and/or STILTON [Rich British cheese] will. I envision an INERT HOMER [Abe Simpson's boy] ensconced on the sofa, snarfing down PIZZA, STEIN [Beer mug] in hand. (Okay—Homer's more of a right outta the can kinda guy, but I'm tryin' to work with what I got here!) Nice, too, how those last three words stack up in the NE.

There are two particularly good clue/fill combos today: [A lot of sassafrass] for ESSES—there are five of 'em, in fact; and the charming [Course for Crusoe?] for ANAGRAM. Anyone need that one spelled out? I like, too, how SLAVS is right next to SERBIA in the grid, because even though the former has been clued [Poles, e.g.], it could have been clued in connection with the population from that [Balkan country].

The assonance of ANAGRAM, ANAPEST and NIAGARA is most appealing. And I like seeing ANT [Insect in "High Hopes"] right after UPSIDE [Optimist's focus]. If any creature was optimistic, it was definitely that ant. I also like seeing the high-scoring Scrabble letters—those Xs and Ks, the Vs, J and Zs.

Getting back to the "workout" component of today's theme, should you undertake it and find that your muscles start to TIRE and your body ache, Ray has provided a fitting bonus right there in the grid. Just pull out the ol' ICE BAG!

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Fighting Words"

I'm not generally a fan of quote themes, but I am a fan of comedian Sarah Haskins, and she's a fan of Brendan's crosswords, as am I, so a puzzle that features a Haskins quote is OK by me. The quip is I'M A FEMINIST. IT IS / AN EXTENSION OF MY / LIFELONG WAR / AGAINST / PANTYHOSE. I follow sarah_haskins on Twitter (I'm OrangeXW) and like her "Target Woman" videos (which are not about Target, the store).

What's that? What about the puzzle? Oh. 15x16 grid, lots of tough stuff, lots of long answers sprawling across and beside one another. Good crossword. Am short on time thanks to two-hour (!) doctor visit.

Randolph Ross's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Egotism"

The theme is all about ME, as in the two ME rebus squares that appear in each otherwise unrelated long theme entry. It didn't take me that long to figure out that there was a rebus involved, but it still wound up being a tough puzzle for me. Ten double-rebus answers in all, with the middle one, [ME]DIA NA[ME], sharing its rebus squares with two Down theme answers, one of which shared another ME with another Across theme entry, so instead of an egotistical 20 MEs, we have a humble 17 MEs.

A couple tough names from long ago—TILDEN was the [Popular vote winner of 1876], and [ME]LLON was the [Treasury secretary under Harding, Coolidge and Hoover].

Time to work now!