July 05, 2009

Monday, 7/6

BEQ 6:48
NYT 2:41
LAT 2:35
CS (not today for Janie...)/(3:24 Amy)

Some of the background story behind yesterday's NYT puzzle appeared at Jim Horne's blog, Wordplay. There's more from me after the cut here—so if you didn't get around to the Sunday puzzle over the holiday weekend, mind the spoilers that follow.

As I've said elsewhere, the impetus for the theme was my husband asking, while working on a crossword puzzle, whether "studpuffin" was a word. The answer he needed was STUDMUFFIN, of course. I blogged about that and it caught Tony Orbach's attention—and we proceeded to riff on other M-to-P letter substitutions.

Next thing I knew, we had a solid set of theme entries (plus a list of rejects that didn't lend themselves to decent clues or that were an oddball length for our theme). Tony filled most of the grid and left me a couple spots to noodle around with, and we honed the fill until we were happy with it. (Yeah, I know that means we were content with fill like ACERS and ODIE. These things happen!)

We largely split the cluing duties as Across/Amy, Tony/Down. Tony not only knows how to design a grid to accommodate theme entries and lively fill, but he also writes funny clues. So he made the entire process a joy. We lucked out in getting a decision from Will Shortz quickly—within a month or so—and then waited the length of a giraffe's gestation period for publication. At last, the baby giraffe popped out this weekend, and nearly everybody said the baby was cute. (Nobody ever tells the mom her baby looks like a monkey—or an okapi.)

I compared the clues Tony and I submitted to the final set of clues. About two thirds of the clues were unchanged, and another 15% or so were cosmetically changed but retained the basic gist. Among the clues that Will changed for the better:

• We had [Stovetop?] for BOILING PAD, and that became [Summer apartment with no air-conditioning?]. This one seemed to resonate with solvers, especially since it's July.

• BALD EAGLE began as [Winner over the turkey for national bird]. I like that, but Will's [Quarter back] threw a lot of people for a loop. I'm always fond of clues that throw people for a loop.

• Tony had an interesting [Gee's Bend creation] clue for QUILT. Look how incredible these quilts are—not at all your standard quilt patterns. (I hadn't heard of the Gee's Bend quilts until I read Tony's clue.) Will changed this to [What a bee produces], which is particularly wicked because HONEY also has 5 letters.

Tony and I had both been amused by the image of a PAN ABOUT TOWN, envisioning a wok painting the town red. Maybe the wok is the STUDPUFFIN's wingman. Or maybe I just like the puffin/pan combo because it rhymes with the Muffin Man. We had two suggested clues for PAN ABOUT TOWN: [Carousing wok?] and [Wok around the block?]. Will jettisoned those in favor of PAN the verb: [Move a movie camera around a community?]. That's really my only grumble about cluing changes—and the new clue works fine, it's just that it isn't as funny.

Hey, I should do this again sometime! It's a blast seeing my name in the New York Times magazine.

Fred Piscop's New York Times crossword

Fred runs the political gamut from left to right with his theme:

• 17A. LIBERAL BENEFITS include [Company-paid medical and dental coverage, college tuition, etc.].
• 37A. [A sot he's not] clues MODERATE DRINKER. I tried to wedge DESIGNATED DRIVER in there, but it just wouldn't fit.
• 59A. CONSERVATIVE TIE is a [Bit of attire for a business interview, maybe].

GONO looks nutty in the grid. It's a two-word partial, 42A ["This will ___ further!"]. Among the tougher bits:

• 10D. [Pour forth] clues EFFUSE.
• 62D. ADA is clued as [Critic ___ Louise Huxtable], and I'm thinking she's not so Monday-level familiar.
• 4D. Gotta learn your 4-letter European rivers if you're going to be a crossworder. The ODER is a [Baltic Sea feeder].
• 25A. Today's [Upholstered piece] is a SETTEE. This long seat for more than one person is seldom heard of outside of crosswords, at least in my circles. There are couches and sofas, there are loveseats, there are futons, there are lounge chairs and chaises longues. Who sits on a SETTEE these days? I like to picture crosswordese people like Theda Bara sitting on settees.

Updated Monday morning:

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Windbreakers"―Janie's review

Why no published time from me today? Really, once it exceeds ten minutes I feel no need to share; it did and I don't. But did my dopey time stop me from enjoying the puzzle? Hardly. In "Windbreakers," Bob takes the word wind and breaks it up into two uneven pieces―win and d―which bookend a familiar phrase or word. All of today's theme fill seems to be appearing for the first time, which makes it very fresh fill indeed. Behold:

  • 17A. WINE STEWARD [Port authority?] And that's one fine clue as well.
  • 27A. WINTERIZED [Prepared for single digits]. Am so glad it's summer and I can postpone thought of single-digit temperatures for the moment!
  • 45A. WINGSPREAD [Flight statistic]. Like wingspan, this measurement is usually cited in reference to birds and insects. Some dictionaries do define the word in connection with aircraft however, so the clue is definitely fair. Did you know about this "Wingspread," the Frank Lloyd Wright classic in Wisconsin? New to me.
  • 60A. WINNING HAND [Flush, often]. Ah, this one did me in in any number of ways as it morphed from winning card to winning hard to winning hand at last. Said flush could be an ODDS ON boon in OMAHA [Texas Hold'em cousin often played high-low].
And there's a TON of strong fill and cluing among the non-thematic entries as well: SHIVAREE (what a great word that is), a loud celebration or [Post-nuptial kettle-and-pan send-off]―yep, that'd be noisy all right; apparent CS-debuts LOVE NEST (and its alliterative clue [Private place for paramours]) and PROTOZOA [Unicellular critters] (and not parameci...); and CHEW OUT [Rake over the coals]. People engaged in a SCRAPE, a non-condiment [Jam or pickle] or SNITS [Huffs or tiffs] tend to chew out someone in the process. Keep yer distance!

For tipplers, we have a [Shakespearean barmaid] for WENCH (just couldn't get Nell Gwynne to fit...) and [Joe the Bartender player] for GLEASON
(though if you [Went to Joe's], you ATE there). Jackie Gleason of The Honeymooners fame, went on to have his own variety-type show in which he created a number of memorable characters (such as super-wealthy Reginald van Gleason, I recall).

For birdwatchers, there's the [Pigeon's perch] for LEDGE, [White wader] for HERON and [Alarm cock] (!) for ROOSTER. For music lovers, the [Key of Dvorák's "New World Symphony"] is E MINOR, or you may prefer the uber-Slavic ["Song of the Volga ___] BOATMEN" or maybe just a little [...Janis] IAN or John Cougar Mellencamp with ["Jack & ___] DIANE." For those in the throes of being astonished, there's [Blowing away] for WOWING and [Blown away] for AWED. AWW ["That's so-o-o-o cute!"].

Other cute stuff? TEETH clued as [Mouthpieces?] (I tried PIPES...); DEE for [Hollywood ending?] and EGOS for [Hollywood biggies?]; BITE clued as [Nip or nibble]; CAGED as the brilliant [Boxes of bars]; and my fave, the crossing of ["Get a Job" syllables] NA-NA-NA with NO! NO! NO! ["You're badly mistaken"].

As badly mistaken as I was time after time in this puzzle (which threatened to beat me to a PULP), I slogged through each SNAFU to make a NEW start and upon completion, felt duly rewarded for my efforts. IN A WORD (or so...): a terrific if somewhat humbling solve!

—Back to Orange. The "broken word bracketing the rest of a phrase" theme never does much for me, but the fill (especially in those corners—lots of longer answers) and Klahny clues entertained me.

David Cromer's Los Angeles Times crossword

I had just read this Chicago Tribune article about the Journey song "Don't Stop Believin'," which peaked at #9 on the charts but has become people's favorite Journey anthem. The "Don't Stop" part ties in to Cromer's theme of phrases that begin with "endless" synonyms:

• 20A. PERMANENT PRESS is clued as [Wrinkle-resistant after washing].
• 34A. [Fabled fountain's reward] is ETERNAL YOUTH. I kept reading "fountain" as "mountain."
• 41A. I do like the FOREVER STAMP, the first-class postage stamp that doesn't ever need a 1¢ stamp added to it. [You can still use it when postage rates increase].
• 55A. ["Semper fidelis," in English] translates to ALWAYS FAITHFUL. Hey, there's a Journey song called "Faithfully."

The JOURNEY vibe hit me again when I discovered it was in the grid at 9D, clued as a [Long trip].

I've got another puzzle to blog before I take my foot to the doctor's office, so I'll refer you to Rex's take on the puzzle at L.A. Crossword Confidential. He critiques the theme's lack of parallel construction, in that the some of the synonyms are used as adjectives and some as adverbs. Frankly, I often don't pay enough attention to a Monday puzzle to notice these things.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Themeless Monday"

Gotta love a Saturday-tough themeless on a Monday!

Brendan mentioned a new book, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's The Atlantic Cryptic Crosswords. I ordered a copy from Amazon before I commented at Brendan's blog and before coming here to blog his puzzle. If, like me, you haven't done the bulk of Hex's Atlantic variety cryptics, YOU MUST BUY THIS BOOK. Provided, of course, that you like challenging cryptic crosswords, as I do. See? This is totally going to get in the way of constructing. It's so much easier to do puzzles than to make them, and I'm looking forward to the book arriving. But dammit! I still have most of Frank Longo's Vowelless Crosswords to do, too. Why did I take on that new "puzzle consulting" client, again? This work gets in the way of puzzle time.

A few of my favorite things from Brendan's themeless:

• 1A. [Vehicle specifically for crybabies] is the WAHMBULANCE, which my trainer always threatens to call for me at the gym.
• 19A. Gotta love SFAX, the [Tunisian port]. I know it only from crosswords. It can also be spelled Safaqis, but the insane letter combos in SFAX are so much more fun.
• 44A, 46A. Parallel clues: KINSEY's a [Name associated with reports] and TSO is a [Name associated with chicken].
• 65A. SHIP OF FOOLS is the classic [Hieronymus Bosch masterpiece].
• 4. [Bicentennial of the end of the Civil War] is much more gettable than the recent NYT clue invoking Chinese poet Li Po, who was busy around 700 A.D. but only people who've studied Li Po are likely to know that. The Civil War ended in 1865, so 2065 is MMLXV.
• 22D. The generic "IT" GIRL is a [Young woman with intense media coverage]. Did you start out thinking you needed somebody's name here? I did.