July 31, 2009

Saturday, 8/1

Newsday just under 11 minutes
NYT 6:30
LAT 4:11
CS 12:27 (J—paper)/3:47 (A—Across Lite)

Martin Ashwood-Smith's New York Times crossword

Remember Roberto Duran's famous plea, "¡No mas!"? Based on the early returns (i.e., the applet times posted thus far), I suspect more than a few people have been feeling rather "¡No mas, M.A.S.!" about this puzzle. Interesting and tough fill, a hearty batch of challenging clues, several easy traps to fall into, and some crazy crossings? That's a recipe for an arduous solving experience. What a great-looking grid, though, eh? Look at that diagonal swath of white space sprawling across the middle of the puzzle.

First up, the Tar Pits of Traps and Tricky Crossings:

  • Square 41. Where 41D: [Stately old court dance] meets 41A: [Tank type]. I started out with one of those dances I know from crosswords, the GAVOT, which made GUNNER seem plausible. But no. The dance is a different 5-letter dance with an AV in it, the PAVAN, crossing a PANZER tank.
  • 26A. [Sentences may end with them], P*R***S. Oh, that's an easy tricky clue! It's not PERIODS at all, no sir. It's PAROLES. Whoops, no, it's PARDONS. I wasn't getting much help with that from 9-10-11D. 9D is JAMES DEAN, the ["Being an actor is the loneliest thing in the world" speaker]. (Aw, sad.) 10D is EVICTORS, clued with [They remove letters], as in renters. And 11D is SICKENS, which, yes, means [Repulses].
  • Stacked people you may or may not know—I knew 22A: ["Far From Heaven" director Todd] HAYNES. Great melodrama in the style of Douglas Sirk, I think they said; stars Julianne Moore, who's married to Haynes. Right below is 25A: [Patron saint of hermits], or GILES. Hmm, had no idea about that one. Crossings all the way. Douglas Sirk is not to be confused, mind you, with 38A: [British Columbia's ___ Mountains], or SELKIRK. Yeah, I'll bet Crosscan got that one right away. Oh, wait—you know what crosses HAYNES/GILES? Good lord, Martin and Will. [Satirist Ward] is named NED? Who is satirist Ned Ward? Oh, for pete's sake: he was doing his satirizing three centuries ago.

That was some hardcore Saturday stickiness, wasn't it?

Moving along to regular ol' tough Saturday clues without, perhaps, that extra touch of evil the aforementioned bits had, we have these:
  • 16A. [Demonstrate banking skill] is about banking planes: AVIATE. I thought of finance and then of a banked car or bike racetrack.
  • 18A. Hang on, this is right below 16A. Maybe these ones belong in the Tar Pits discussion, too. The [Distance light travels in 3.3. femtoseconds] is one MICRON. That's a millionth of a meter, or "a very teeny length" in technical terms.
  • 15A. [Hole that's not filled] is an OPEN DATE. The phrase feels not-so-familiar to me. Open dates on a calendar, yes?
  • Royalty confusion! 24A: [Queens or soldiers] are a CASTE of ants, while 13D: [Royal educator] is ETON, the school of princes.
  • 29A. This one's' super-easy, right? Everyone loves "Calvin & Hobbes" and knows how to spell Bill WATTERSON's name? He's the [Creator of a comic strip named after a theologian and a philosopher].
  • 32A. [Desert rodents] are JERBOAS. I hope you didn't let the ERB part take to to GERBILS.
  • 37A. [So, in Salerno] is COSI. I'm sure one of you will translate "Cosi fan tutte" for me, and perhaps also explain why Cosi is the name of a sandwich chain.
  • 3D. [Big name in slapstick] could be so many people, couldn't it? With the J in place, my first thought was JACKIE CHAN, but it's JERRY LEWIS.
  • 27D. [1947 western serial film] is...not very specific. What's the series? Who knows? Answer is SON OF ZORRO. NOSFERATU, the 30D: [Title vampire of film], is a much more familiar title to me.
  • 34D. [Diphthong dividers] are diaereses or, the crosswords seem to prefer, DIERESES. Those are the umlauty things you sometimes see in "naïve" or "coöperate" (I'm not sure which O takes the dots there, actually). Here's another accented character option I just found on the character map, and it looks like an emoticon: ȫ
  • 42D. [Get the best of] clues CULL. When you snag the best of what's available, you CULL it. Sort of.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention a few other things I liked:
  • PARTOOK! It's fun to say and it starts to look utterly foreign the more you look at it. It's clued as 21D: [Had some].
  • 39A. ["Class Reunion" novelist, 1979] is Rona JAFFE. I read this when I was about 14. Thank you, Rona JAFFE, for being a gimme. I needed the help today.
  • 1A. TAJ MAHAL gets a longer clue than usual: [Final resting place built in the 17th century]. And a SARI is 12D: [Attire around the 1-Across]. Maybe Christo could wrap the Taj Mahal itself in a sari.
  • 1D. TOUGH GUY! A real [Bruiser], eh?
  • How about the double K in WEAK-KNEED, or 29D: [Cowardly]? It's k-k-kool.

You know, looking back at this grid, I see that the northwest and southeast corners don't have much interplay with the rest of the puzzle. If you aren't hitting a couple quick gimmes in each corner, that could make it an arduous task to work your way into those sections. I didn't personally feel attacked by that, but I recognize that it's the sort of grid that can frustrate too many people. But it's still pretty...

Updated Saturday morning:

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Cool Bin"—Janie's review

If you don't enjoy a good pun (or three), this puzzle is not for you. On the other hand, if you're like me and take high pleasure in this low form of humor, this one's for you! Bob has given us three phrases, each containing a word that has the letter sequence "oa" in it, and changed it to a word with the "oo" phoneme in its place. The "cool bin" in the title, was once a "coal bin." Get it? Good. Then get a load of the great clue/fill combos we get with:
  • 20A. [Device that makes ghosts not quite as scary?] BOO CONSTRICTOR. In its pre-pun life, this was a boa constrictor. This particular fill is the only one where the "oa" of the word that gets altered is sounded in two syllables. Not a hundred percent sure how I feel about that inconsistency, but am quite sure about how much I like the result.
  • 36A. [Bird that few are crazy about?] Why that would be the rare LOW-INTEREST LOON. Take a bow, low-interest loan—the joke's on you.
  • 55A. [Longing to see Italy again?] Yes, I am. So as I look at it on the map, it can be said that I'm MISSING THE BOOT. The only time I visited (omg, 22 years ago...), I flew over, so wasn't faced with the prospect (literally or figuratively) of missing the boat.
How else did I love this puzzle? Let me count some of the more outstanding ways. For starters, there's the particular range of names, including: actors JOHN HURT, Robin WILLIAMS, Christina RICCI, and Lash LA RUE; conductor Seiji OZAWA; author ENID Blyton; athletes OLGA Korbut, OTTO Graham and Jim THORPE; Old and New Testament reps ISAIAH and JUDAS; distiller HIRAM Walker; and Emperor HIROHITO.

One of my favorite crosses is HIROHITO with MOJITO [Rum-and-mint cocktail...]. Because it's an almond-flavored liqueur, I'd always thought AMARETTO meant "almond." In fact the word for "almond" in Italian is mandoria (which gets me thinking of mandelbrot...), though Amaretto may be distilled from bitter almonds—whence the clue [Liqueur that's Italian for "rather bitter"]. All of which is a PROLIX [Long-winded] way of getting to my point, which is that I also love seeing potable AMARETTO by HIROHITO's side also being crossed by potable MOJITO.

And since I've mentioned it, let me add that the SE column made by PROLIX, APOGEE and PETARD is a beauty. Nice, too, the way ARMY sits atop BASE in the SW—and the way that crossing herpetological pair SNAKY and SLITHERY falls in between.

Some fave clues include:
  • The triple-rhyming [Speedy steed breed] for ARAB;
  • [Height of fashion?] for HEM (the link will take you to an article about hemlines, hair-dos and the economy);
  • the wordplay-rich [Source of a drop in the bucket, perhaps] for LEAK;
  • [Grant and Grant's foe] for LEES (i.e., Lee Grant and Robert E. Lee);
  • [Being shot] for ON CAMERA; and that anatomical duo,
  • the almost too graphic (and very funny) [Butt out?] for MOON and [Nose lengtheners] for LIES (think Pinocchio, folks).
No doubt, I've excluded your fave(s). SUNLIT, anyone? In that case, do speak up. I think we can agree, though, that once again, Bob has made something EPIC of this compact 15x15 form.

Newsday "Saturday Stumper" by Anna Stiga, a.k.a. "Stan again," a.k.a. Stanley Newman

(PDF solution here.)

Nothing too deadly, but nothing too delightful either. I didn't push to go as fast as I could this time. Here are some answers that did not come quite as readily as the others:
  • 15A. [Home of Georgian Technical University] is TBILISI. Can you name another city in Georgia? At the moment, I can't. I like to think the school has sports teams nicknamed "the Rambling Wreck."
  • 16A. [City on the Reuss River] is LUCERNE, Switzerland. Could've easily been German or Austrian, too. The 52A: [Sight from 16 Across] is the ALPS.
  • 26A. [Make an appointment] clues HIRE, as in appointing someone to a paid position. Tricky clue; I liked it.
  • 32A. [100 cents may equal one] 4-letter unit of currency. EURO? No, RAND.
  • 38A. I didn't know FRAPPE was [Literally, "iced"], but words like frio and frigid made that a little more gettable.
  • 43A. ABE is [Daisy Mae's boy], and I'm not sure where Daisy Mae is from. Al Capp?
  • 51A. I let the crossings give me CXC for [Multiple of XXXVIII] and then did the math to check. 38 times 5 = 190.
  • 61A. The TERMITE is [One on a high-fiber diet].
  • 3D. VITAMIN B COMPLEX is an [Important group in cell metabolism].
  • 5D. [E, as in Western Union] clues DIT, which is Morse code-ese for "dot," and the letter E is a dot in Morse code.
  • 9D. OUR GANG isn't just the Little Rascals, it's also a [Philip Roth novel].
  • 11D. RED SHIRT is a [Garibaldi follower]. His followers wore red shirts, which are also called garibaldis.

Barry Silk's Los Angeles Times crossword

My full writeup, including a LEIF Garrett video, is over at L.A. Crossword Confidential.

I don't know about this puzzle. Usually I enjoy Barry's puzzles quite a bit, but this one didn't do it for me. Maybe I was just tired yesterday when I did it. Or maybe it's that crosswords with this sort of grid—tons of seven-letter answers but not much in the Really Cool Long Answers department—seldom delight me. When Saturday rolls around, dang it, I want Really Cool Long Answers. I want a JOE BAZOOKA more than BETTERS, PETTIER, and AIRIEST, y'know? The fill was pretty Scrabbly (a pangram to boot), but outside of REYKJAVIK and SPECIAL K, the Scrabbly letters weren't put to splashy use. A Z and an X in close proximity sounds awesome, but the TAX-FREE CZARINA? Eh.

I will almost certainly like Barry's next creation much more. He's got the chops to do cool stuff, but this wasn't among my Silken favorites.