July 10, 2009

Saturday, 7/11

Newsday 7:34
NYT 5:31
LAT 4:01
CS 2:55

Karen Tracey's New York Times crossword

Unusual grid, isn't it? I mean, within the confines of standard crossword symmetry, it's not the usual layout we see for a themeless puzzle. Kind of like a sine wave of white space spanning the middle of the grid, and 9-, 10-, and 11-letter Down answers linking the midsection to the other six boxy areas.

Unsurprisingly, I find myself admiring Karen's fill for its balance of pop culture, geography, and Scrabbly action overlapping both of those areas. See what I mean?

  • 17A. Handbag designer KATE SPADE is a [Big name in bags]. Those bags are cute, but if I'm dropping $200 on a purse, it had better have handy pockets and compartments inside. Kate, give us compartments!
  • 19A. The dreaded TROLL is an [Internet forum menace]. I feel fortunate that the commentariat here is so congenial.
  • 21A. [Major Cote d'Ivoire export] is CACAO. Yum, chocolate. I wonder how many people cleverly guessed IVORY.
  • 29A. BUY is a small word with a great clue: [Act like a bull?]. Bad timing in that someone was killed by a bull at the running of the bulls in Spain today...but still a good clue.
  • 33A. [They may call the shots] clues ANNOUNCERS, who do not "call the shots" the way that figure of speech usually means.
  • 36A. JOHN LARROQUETTE is the [Winner of four consecutive Emmys for his sitcom role as a prosecutor]. Three things: (1) Scrabbly name, J + Q. (2) Why is there a double R in that name? It looks wrong from a French standpoint to me. (3) Wow, did I spend too much time looking to see it SAMWATERSTON or FREDTHOMPSON or STEVENHILL would fit there. Yes, I realize that Law & Order is not a sitcom.
  • 39A. HANAUMA BAY is a [Snorkeling spot near Honolulu]. I canceled my trip to Maui in 1999 when I got pregnant. Maybe a Christmas trip this year? Why not?
  • 54A. XHOSA is an African language with clicks. It's a [Zulu relative]. I got it off the A, which was one of the few letters I had
    right in 41D. [Sounds like an old floorboard] clues GROANS, but I had CREAKS. You know what I just noticed this summer? The humidity quiets down my creaky floors.
  • 57A. New vocabulary word in a clue! [Pteridologist's specimen] is a FERN.
  • 59A. I like the misinterpretable [Cashiers] as a clue for OUSTS.
  • 61A. AMPS are clued as [Gear to help you hear]. That may be true for the people in the back of the top balcony at a concert, but in general, AMPS are gear to help kill your hearing. No joke.
  • 1D. Always a sucker for geography, I even like BAKU, the [Transcaucasian capital] of Azerbaijan. Right next door (not on the map) is ULAN Bator or (also spelled Ulaanbataar), [Half an Asian capital?]. Technically, that's 4/9ths.
  • 5D. CAPTAIN AHAB! "Hast seen the white whale?" That's [To whom Stubb and Flask answered, in literature].
  • 11D. [Response to a ding-dong?] is "WHO CAN IT BE?" I like this because I'm hearing Men at Work's "Who Can It Be Now?" in my head. '80s earworm!
  • 13D. Whoa, unfamiliar clue for a crosswordese place name. ST. LO is clued by way of [The Vire River flows through it]. Wow, V must be hostile to crossword constructors, or else we'd see the dang VIRE in our puzzles a lot.
  • 18D. More geography with cute cluing: ST. PAUL is a [Minnesota twin?].
  • 24D. [Three Mile Island is in it] clues the SUSQUEHANNA River. I was largely guessing here—Is there a Pennsylvania river with a Scrabbly name? Because that's what Karen would go for.
  • 27D. Pop culture—IN HER SHOES is a [Jennifer Weiner best seller made into a 2005 film].
  • 35D. "DEAR SANTA" is clued as [Words followed by a wish list].
It's noteworthy that this 68-word puzzle has only six 3-letter entries in it, and five of those are regular words (only SER., for sermon, is an abbreviation). The crossword's remarkably devoid of crap, too. I can take some repeaters like ERN, ADEE, and ALAR when overall the fill has oomph and no patently unfair crossings.

Updated Saturday morning:

John Farmer's Los Angeles Times crossword

John's puzzle is a couple notches easier than Karen's NYT, but that doesn't mean it was boring. I did a lot of lauding over at L.A. Crossword Confidential, in fact, so I'll plagiarize myself here.

This puzzle's got three real people's full names—all people whose first or last names pop up singly fairly often in crosswords, but John's classed up the joint by given these folks the full name treatment. There's 17A ["Night" writer], ELIE WIESEL, whose last name is usually consigned to the clues because that delicious 75%-vowels first name is so popular in crosswords. Then we have 14D [1922 physics Nobelist] NIELS BOHR, who also has a grid-friendly first name. And rounding out the trio is 10D ["Naughty Marietta" costar (1935)] NELSON EDDY. I feel like I know him mainly from crosswords, which seems weird because EDDY is a valid small-e noun in its own right.

Other highlights:

• 15A: Comic strip guy with an eye patch (BAZOOKA JOE). One Z, one K, one J? Super-Scrabbly phrase. Evocations of childhood bubblegum? Oh, yes. The sort of thing that we see in lots of crosswords? I wish.
• 32A: Marked by obscenities, say (RATED R). The multi-part answers in which one part is a single letter are tricky. Saturday + tricky = recipe for happiness (or extreme frustration, depending on your mood).
• 37A: "Don't change a thing!" ("I LOVE IT!"). Zippy spoken phrase, makes me think of those TV commercials they had promoting, if memory serves, L.A. tourism. All the people shouting "I love it!" or "We love it!"—remember those?
• 39A: "Composer" of "Fanfare for the Common Cold" (P.D.Q. BACH). Can't say I've ever had any interest in P.D.Q. Bach, but that is an awesome name to drop in a crossword, and the composition's title is funny.
• 60A: Battle fatigue? (RUN ON EMPTY). I kept reading the clue as a noun phrase, but it's the verb phrase. If you're battling fatigue, you're running on empty.
• 65A: Sign of possession (APOSTROPHE). Aaah! Love that clue. I was thinking of demonic possession, not grammatical.
• 12D: Fast-food combo order (VALUE MEAL). In these recessionary times, everyone loves the VALUE MEAL.
• 27D: Have a problem ordering sirloin steak? (LISP). That's a thirloin thteak, then. I'll path.
• 51D: Longstocking of kids' books (PIPPI). I loved the Pippi books and movie(s) when I was a kid. Bought a book for my son but he hasn't been reading much this summer. Not sure how I ended up with a kid who's a great (and fast) reader but who only reads when told to do so.

Off to the Newsday puzzle now—I hope it'll be as smooth and as fun as Karen and John's.

Sandy Fein's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"

(PDF solution here.)

Aw, I like themelesses to have cool long answers, and this one maxes out with four 8s and a slew of 7s. We've got four foreign lands: (1) LIBERIA is a [Land on the Atlantic] (that should be a Sporcle quiz—name all the countries that border a particular ocean). (2) NIGERIA is an [OPEC member] (that one is a Sporcle quiz). (3) SIBERIA is a [Faraway place, so to speak]. (4) AMNESIA is a great place to vacation sometimes. It's a [Soap-opera plot element].

Then we have the Old South—OLE MISS is the John [Grisham alma mater], and I let the *LEM*** point me errantly to CLEMSON. It crosses SELMA, Alabama, a [Cotton State city].

Two hits from The Simpsons—MONA is the name of [Homer Simpson's mom], and Kwik-E-Mart proprietor APU shares the name of a [Title character of a literary trilogy]. The Apu Trilogy is also available in film form.

Clue roundup:

• [Waterbury Clock, today] is called TIMEX.
• SIENA is a [City for whom a color was named]—sienna. Shouldn't that be [City for which a color was named]? A city is not a "who."
• AQUAVIT is [What Brits call French brandy]. "Water of life"? No, sillies, everyone knows that's Diet Coke.
• [Columbus discovery of 1498] is the ORINOCO River.
• [Coral-reef topper] clues CAY, which is funny because I'd tried to make CAY be the answer to the nearby [Low land] clue. That one turned out to be FEN.

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy crossword, "Say 'Cheese'"

The theme's not about cheese, it's about saying "cheese" to smile for the camera:

• 17A. BOOSTER SHOT is a [Follow-up vaccination].
• 31A. [Molasses cookie] is a GINGERSNAP. At Christmas time, my aunt and cousin make these addictive little gingersnaps the size of oyster crackers. Num, num.
• 47A. [Overall perspective] is the BIG PICTURE.
• 63A. [Close race (and a hint to 17-, 31-, and 47-Across] is PHOTO FINISH, as those other three words/phrases end with words meaning "photo.'

Doesn't IBEFOREE look like the name of a Florida swamp? That's the [Start of a spelling mnemonic], "I before E except after C..."

Nikola TESLA, the [Inventor dubbed "the patron saint of modern electricity"], just had a birthday, I hear. His fellow scientist Enrico FERMI, a [Manhattan Project scientist], joins the festivities because TESLA brought the STOLI ([Grey Goose rival, for short]).