July 25, 2009

Sunday, 7/26

NYT 99:59

LAT 99:59

PI 99:59

[updated to include:]

CS 99:59

BG 99:59

by guest blogger Dean Olsher

Amy always has something to teach me, and therefore I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I’m making my debut in her chair on a Sunday. She is no doubt teaching me a lesson for writing, in FROM SQUARE ONE, that I haven’t done a Sunday crossword in years, because it feels more like work than fun. (Of course I made an exception when Amy made her debut as a constructor three Sundays ago, with Tony Orbach, and I’m not brown-nosing when I say that it was a fun puzzle.)

In any event, this was a good excuse to reacquaint myself with other editing styles and challenge my belief that the New York Times puzzle really is superior. (It’s like my preference in dogs. I would like to identify with something edgy and unusual, but the sad truth is that I love Golden Retrievers, the most vanilla of breeds. I wish I could claim something more obscure, but there you have it.)

Kevin G. Der’s New York Times Sunday crossword, “Story Circle”

There’s a moment that occurs when solving a rebus puzzle that satisfies in its own way. You think to yourself, “Wait a minute, something is not right.... Saaaaay! I know what’s going on here.” The rebus in question is SIR, which goes in five circled squares slightly north of center. The theme is rounded out with the titles of six films and one book inspired by the story of King Arthur and his Round Table. There are circles for five knights here, leading to left-right symmetry rather than the usual 90-degree sort. I’m not sure of the thinking behind five circles. According to various tellings of the legend, there were at least twenty-five knights, if not more. I feel I must be missing something, and if I am, I’m sure someone will point it out.

Among the theme answers, the 1889 Twain novel that makes up both 4D and and its symmetrically located 12D is A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT. Wow, that was exhilarating! Wow!

Another twofer takes place at both 14D and 76D: 1953 Ava Gardner film ... as depicted elsewhere in this puzzle? The answer is KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE. Also wow! Something about taking up a whole line, interrupted, seems virtuosic.

Less wow among the theme clues:

  • The 1981 film in which Helen Mirren plays a sorcress is EXCALIBUR (2D).
  • Seventeen years later, you get the 1998 animated film featuring the voice of Pierce Brosnan, QUEST FOR CAMELOT (143A).
  • 71D, MISTS OF AVALON is clued as 2001 Anjelica Huston miniseries, with “The.” I don’t love the The (or the missing hyphen in miniseries; spelled this way, as the writer Sarah Thyre has rightly pointed out, you’re left with “such small sad little things”).
  • 137A, SWORD IN THE STONE is clued as a 1963 animated film with the song “Higitus Figitus,” with “The.” Again with the The! Not a lovely clue.

Lots to love:

  • 10D, Subtlety = NUANCE, which is just a good word, plain and simple.
  • SYNOD (39D, Bishop’s group) is a great word, especially when it’s so close to 62A, Blissful: BEATIFIC.
  • 62D, Winnie ____ Pu yields ILLE. That’s the title of A.A. Milne’s beloved children’s tale translated into Living Latin, which is exactly the kind of quixotic endeavor that wins my undying admiration.
  • 103A, Prefix with sphere for IONO was not meant as a shout-out to radio, but I’ll take it as one anyway.
  • 81D, Soap box? TVSET. Nice.
  • Drilling grp. appears twice. At 44D, I thought it was going to be OPEC, but it turned out to be ROTC. Then at 86D, it’s ADA. (My father was a dentist in the army when I was born. He didn’t go through ROTC but he did undergo basic training. On the day they made everyone crawl under live machine-gun fire, he lost his lunch, which consisted of chili. He has never eaten it since.)

Et alii, so as not to gush too much.

  • Boo on them: 19D, Red alert. FIRE SIREN? Nah.
  • Boo on me: I got impatient (see above, “more work than fun”) and tried to look up 78D, Supreme Egyptian deity (spelled here as AMEN RA) by typing in crosswordfiend.blogspot.com. Oops.

I think of myself as post-ideological, but there are a couple of areas in which I maintain a hard line. For example, I hope to remain forever closed-minded in my opposition to puppy mills. And although people tell me they can still appreciate a crossword’s literary qualities while solving it as fast as they can, Lord, I do not want to be in that number. As Will Shortz wrote in the most recent Talk to the Times (which, he says, received more questions than any previous installment of this feature), “Rushing to solve a crossword is like stuffing a fine four-course meal down your throat as fast as you can.” I share all of this to explain my solving times, which are posted in solidarity with the yet-to-be-formed Crossword Fiends’ Auxiliary Chapter of the Slow Food movement.

Paula Gamache’s CrosSynergy “Sunday Challenge”

I am in solidarity with our usual host here: I always look forward to a Paula Gamache puzzle in the New York Times. Gamache is super smart and witty and I wish more puzzles were like hers. In fact, I wish this puzzle were more like hers. It lacked her special touch. Surely all the sparkle in her New York Times offerings can’t be due exclusively to Will Shortz’s editing of the clues. Did CrosSynergy dumb her down?

25D is a good ’un: They may stand for something is the clue for LATECOMERS. But 34A, Sheep shelter (COTE) is - meh.

44A, Auto service department offerings are LOANERS. I remember this as a common practice from childhood, but does anyone still do that?

Many of the folks I met while losing 15% of myself might quibble with 27D, Not a sore loser for DIETER. The people who went to my meetings complained bitterly.

I was Greeted, as a villain this week (49A, HISSED AT) when I gave the first performance of FROM SQUARE ONE: THE LIVE SHOW. I was asking for it. What prompted the hissing was this: “Brooklyn always felt like the Chicago of New York: parochial, boosterish, oddly proud to be the second city within the city.” It may have had something to do with the fact that I delivered this line steps from the epicenter of the Bobo universe. And of course this now has to get past a gatekeeper who loves living in Chicago. I hope the brown-nosing worked.

I couldn’t help but notice that Juicy fruit appears as a clue not only in this puzzle (56A, BERRY) but also Merl Reagle’s (35D, MELON). Now that's crossynergy.

Which brings us to:

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, “A Tense-Sounding Situation”

I used to do Merl’s puzzle every week when I was a reader of the New York Observer, which I gave up because his crossword was the one good thing about it. Now that they’re under new management I should check them out again. In any event, I was glad for the reminder of what makes him so great.

Right away, with 1A, he initiates what appears to be an unintentional subtheme with “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” author LOOS. (Five years ago America passed up an opportunity to obsess over Rebecca Loos - no relation, as far as anyone has pointed out - who was alleged to have caused David Beckham to stray from Posh Spice.) He then proceeds to include a trio of Movie Stars I Have Had Crushes On: “In the Bedroom” actress (56D, SPACEK); Diana of “The Avengers” (80A, RIGG); and Nora, opposite Nick (15D, MYRNA). I wish to offer this list as Exhibit A to everyone who, when trying to fix me up on blind dates, has disbelieved me when I say I don’t have a “type.” (Although, considering how much I wish Claudette Colbert and Carole Lombard would make it into puzzles more often, maybe I do have a type. Colbert was said to be mean to Clark Gable, but he was madly in love with Lombard. And now that I think of how young she was when she was killed in a plane crash and made him a widower, I’m glad it didn’t work out with me after all.) Don’t need a Facebook quiz to know that the 1940s would have been my decade.

Sadly, I am a child of the seventies, which is why 73A, He leaked the Pentagon papers got me to ELLSBERG in no time. Maybe because I'm Generation Jones, this tickled my “Gee!” spot.

I am on record as saying there is no difference between a good pun and a bad pun. That doesn’t mean I can't give props to Merl Reagle for his mastery of paronomasia, which forms the basis of his intended theme. And in fact the puzzle does demonstrate that some puns are more equal than others. As an example of a tired pun, we have 81A, Redundant library sign? for NO TALKING ALOUD. We know that one. But then, by contrast, there’s 25A, New batch of chicks? for FRESH BROOD, which pushes us to hear the language anew. Even better than the AHA MOMENT (Gamache, 1A: Instant when the light goes on) is the Ah! moment, and Merl’s always good for a bunch of them.

The rest of his theme clues:

  • 23A, Result of an Oreck-Bissell summit? = VACUUM PACT
  • 25A, Vestal virgins? = CHASTE WOMEN
  • 38A, Q: “What were you doing at the lumber yard, Tarzan?” A: “_____” = GETTING BOARD
  • 50A, Customer-service reps for a certain condiment? = MUSTARD SUPPORT
  • 65A, Soft and smooth on top? = BALD LIKE A BABY
  • 93A, Get a little sloppy with the stickum? = PASTE ONESELF
  • 103A, Beach-access route? = ROAD TO SHORE
  • 109A, Headline about escaped lions? = PRIDE LOOSE
  • 112A, Where the teetotaler walked? = PAST THE BAR

Merl’s puzzle did not change my mind about puns (for a lovely sorting-through of what I find so distasteful about them, read this op-ed piece). Still, solving it was a satisfying way to spend 99 minutes and 59 seconds.

Some obscurities are boring (89D, Butter dye = ANNATTO) while others (48D, Cross = ROOD) make me curious to find out more. And then there’s the nifty BEADLE (67D, English church official) which really doesn’t deserve to be in crosswords more than it is, but its appearance today made me smile for some reason.

I do quibble with 64A, Many mag pages for ADS. In fact lately there have been not so many, which is why at least one longtime mainstay of American culture may vanish in the weeks ahead. You heard it here first.

Our little daisy chain continues. BPOE appears both here (91D, Lodge letters) and also in the Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword (30A), clued as Fraternal org.

Allemande left and promenade!

Nora Pearlstone’s Los Angeles Times Sunday crossword, “Midafternoons”

[The blogger-in-chief suggests I point out that “Nora Pearlstone” is an anagram of not a real person and is the puzzle-making alter ego of editor Rich Norris.]

The theme is PM: two-word answers, the first word ending in P, the second word beginning with M. This yields the following theme clues:

  • 23A, Temporary solution = STOPGAP MEASURE
  • 54A, Controversial excavation method = STRIP MINING
  • 94A, Key equivalent to B-flat = A-SHARP MAJOR
  • 130A, It can help you organize windows and wallpaper = DESKTOP MANAGER
  • 17D, Startling Stories, e.g. = PULP MAGAZINE
  • 66D, Maker of Marlboro = PHILIP MORRIS

Ho hum. Time for a mid-afternoon nap.

It was interesting to see 25A, APOLLO, clued as Harlem theater. Maybe the editors were sick of all the 40th-anniversary hoo ha surrounding the moon landing. Or maybe it’s how they’re responding to pressure from newspapers to make the L.A. Times puzzle more national.

Regarding NACRES (Mollusk shell materials): plural? Really, right there at the top? If I were to be forced to include a tortured pluralization of an uncountable noun I’d want to hide it somewhere other than 1A.

A rare sports clue pops up at 64A: apparently, an Old Boston Garden nickname is ESPO. I can’t be bothered to find out who or why.

Boston, come in, please!

Boston Globe Sunday crossword

Hello, Boston, you’re on the air!

[Dead air.]

While we’re waiting for the Globe puzzle to come online, I want to say that I’m no Alice Hoffman. I can take criticism. While poking around online for the endangered newspaper’s crossword I stumbled upon this review of my book by Amanda Heller, who seems to have to have neither liked it nor read it. To set the record straight, the crossword in FROM SQUARE ONE is not of my devising. Readers of the book, and now Ms. Heller, know that all credit goes to the multitalented Francis Heaney. I’m sure stuff like this has nothing to do with the fact that the paper is going under. [SNAP!]

[This just in: still no Boston Globe crossword. But Cox and Rathvon are quoted, as am I, in this article that appears today in the Harrisburg Patriot-News, which is bucking the trend by adding puzzles to the paper. Now the bad news: the puzzles they’re adding are sudoku and KenKen®.]

Stand by, please.

It’s confirmed. The Eagle has landed.

Henry Hook’s Boston Globe Sunday crossword, “Take My Word For It”

A nicely made puzzle, worth waiting for. His theme is truth, illustrated as follows:

  • 22A, Oath opening = I DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR
  • 33A, Oddities column = BELIEVE IT OR NOT
  • 63A and 71A, “It’s gotta be true” = YOU CANT MAKE THIS STUFF UP
  • 95A, Rerun in the GSN lineup = TO TELL THE TRUTH
  • 111A, Friday’s request = JUST THE FACTS MAAM
  • 15D, George’s affirmation = I CANNOT TELL A LIE
  • 43D, Old Coke slogan = ITS THE REAL THING

with a Lagniappe at 96D, the Lionel Richie hit TRULY.

Once again a secondary theme emerges. Hook is going to Lahaina in his mind with:

  • 115A, 50th state bird = NENE (someday I hope to see their state fish in a crossword)
  • 116a, Pacific greetings = ALOHAS
  • 98D, Guitar’s kin = UKE

In case 47D, the Suzanne Vega hit LUKA turns out to be so catchy that you just can’t get it out of your head, we here at the Diary wish to offer this earworm replacement service. You may want to consider, instead, TROIKA (56A, Three-horse carriage) or maybe even MOOCHER (85D, Sponge).

More pleasure:

  • 9A, Old war story? is ILIAD, and then, in the opposite corner (119A) you have Jason’s ship, the ARGO.
  • 26A, My brothel’s keeper is MADAM. Nice!

Not so nice:

  • 45A, Bleating sound is MAA?
  • 58D, Illicit affair for AMOUR. Illicit? Always?
  • 64D, Homesteads, in Hampshire appear to be TOFTS. Filing that one away.
  • I had to look up 34D, Greg of “B.J. and the Bear,” which turns out to be EVIGAN. I didn’t feel too bad about it, since I got no help from 39A, Kin of (alt. sp.) for VAR. Huh? Still have no idea what that’s all about. Anyone? Anyone?

16D, Strands for MAROONS reminds me of a recent conversation with my NYU colleague, Adam Penenberg, who I admire very much (and not just because Steve Zahn played him in the movie Shattered Glass). Adam told me his all-time favorite Eugene Maleska clue was, “After a blue ship collides with a red ship. Answer: Marooned.” This gave me an idea as I develop FROM SQUARE ONE: THE LIVE SHOW. Send me your favorite clues, and tell me why they’re your favorites, and offer any interesting stories behind them, over at my blog. And when I say “interesting” I do not mean fabricated.