July 29, 2009

Thursday, 7/30

NYT 4:55
LAT 3:38
CS 7:37 (J—paper)
Tausig untimed

Ashish Vengsarkar's New York Times crossword

Ashish repurposes the term FOUR-LETTER WORDS by representing eight words with four identical letters that sound alike if pronounced in the plural. Oh, dear. That doesn't make a lick of sense, does it? Demonstration will help:

  • 1A. [Facility] is ease, represented as EEEE, which you could describe as "Es," as in "the letter E, in plural," which sounds like "ease."
  • 8A. [Signals] is a verb synonymous with cues, shown as QQQQ. Sure, you get three ugly abbreviations among the four Q crossings, but the space beneath couldn't very well be filled with CUUUU.
  • 19A. [Peer group?] are things that peer: your eyes, or IIII.
  • 20A. To [Razz] is to tease, or TTTT.
  • 47A. [Garden sights] is pretty vague, but what we're going for here is bees, or BBBB.
  • 49A. [Is behind] on paying means owes, or OOOO.
  • 61A. ["Man oh man!"] clues jeeze, or GGGG.
  • 63A. If you're [Hip] to something, you're wise to it—or YYYY.

What, no seize/CCCC, use/UUUU, or pees/PPPP?

Having a stretch of consecutive vowels or consecutive consonants can make it harder to fill a grid. So can planting a couple 15s in the grid—FOUR-LETTER WORDS are [Profanities (and a hint to this puzzle's anomalies)], and REPEAT OFFENDERS are [Record holders? (and a punny hint to this puzzle's anomalies)]. The eight short theme entries, the anomalies, are 4-letter repeat offenders...and they are offenders in that things like GGGG and OOOO make for ugly fill and can't be clued in ordinary fashion. I hereby sentence the constructor to five years of hard labor...making more Thursday through Sunday crosswords.

Highlights in the fill and clues:
  • In the Across column, 5. [<-- What this is, on a calendar] is the fifth month, MAY.
  • 33A. To [Do what Jell-O does] is to JIGGLE.
  • 45A. [Wasn't straight] clues ARCED.
  • 60A. ["American Idol" judge], 5 letters...hmm, is it PAULA or SIMON or RANDY? None of the above. It's ABDUL, Paula's last name.
  • 4D. It's not fun to have to come up with a clue for a superlative form of a word, and those words don't make the best fill, either. EERIEST is salvaged somewhat by the clue, [Like H.P. Lovecraft among all popular writers?].
  • 9D. A quarter, or QTR., is [12 or 15 min.]. It's what, college basketball games where quarters last 12 minutes? Or football? Some sport.
  • 10D. At last, an [Rx abbr.] that doctors may actually use, unlike TER. QID means four times a day.
  • 39D. I thought [Big chip off the old block?] was an ICE CUBE, but that's not a big enough chip. The answer is ICEBERG. I just bought a Titanic-ships-and-icebergs ice tray.
  • 54D. I love the word FEY. It's clued as [Hardly macho], though the Mac's dictionary defines it as "giving an impression of vague unworldliness; having supernatural powers of clairvoyance; [chiefly Scottish] fated to die or at the point of death." American Heritage Dictionary largely agrees. Merriam-Webster expands it to include "excessively refined (precious); quaintly unconventional (campy)." Is it just that the word sounds like a blend of "gay" and "fairy" that accounts for the use of "fey" to mean things not at all listed in some reputable dictionaries?
  • 55D. Say what? [Actress Williams of the 1960s-'70s] clues EDY, which more often is clued as the ice cream brand's namesake. I wonder what percentage of NYT crossword solvers know the name Edy Garcia Schaffer. Her crossword dictionary's the top-selling one on Amazon at the moment.
Updated Thursday morning:

Donna S. Levin's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "I Love a Parade!"—Janie's review

And really, don't a lot of us? Whether it's something ginormous, like the Macy's Thanksgiving affair or something on a smaller, more human scale, like your local Memorial Day or Independence Day tribute, there's usually something in the event itself and/or its effect on you that's made it memorable. At least that's the hope!! In her puzzle, Donna has given us four theme-phrases, each of which begins with a word that is also something you're likely to see at a parade. All but the last look to be making major-puzzle bows, and that last one looks to be a CS-first. Nice to have the fresh 'n' lively theme-fill!
  • 20A. BALLOON PAYMENT [It may be required when a mortgage matures]. Sure wish this parade had more than one balloon, but (unlike phrases ending in the word) there is a decided dearth of phrases beginning with balloons...
  • 26A. FLOAT ONE'S BOAT [Be stimulating, slangily]. Terrific fill, though once again, a parade with but one float?... Here's what I learned from Absolute Astronomy about floats: "Parade floats were first introduced in the Middle Ages when churches used pageant wagons as movable scenery for passion plays...The name is derived from the first floats, which were decorated barges that were towed along canals with ropes held by parade marchers on the shore." Aha! (No, I can't vouch for the reliability of the site, but it sure sound feasible / reasonable.)
  • 48A. MARSHAL DILLON ["Gunsmoke" lawman]. A parade's Grand Marshal is the dignitary who's usually right up there at the front, glad-handing and waving and lending the force of his or her personality to the event. Check out the list of Grand Marshals from the Parade of Roses. Then check out that "Gunsmoke" link. The show was on tv from 1955-1975 and besides the leading players, oh boy, did a lot of actors pay their dues there, including Burt Reynolds, Pat Hingle and crossword-staple Jack ELAM.
  • 56A. BAND OF BROTHERS [Spielberg's WWII miniseries]. No parade is complete without at least one!
To complement the stirring theme-fill, Donna has filled the grid with little that is SO-SO [Middling] and much that is A-OK [Hunky dory]. There's first-timer OPEN-MINDED; and PAPER TRAIL, ODD LOTS, HYBRID and LEEWAY. Did you know that a [Journey in Swahili] is a SAFARI? I love getting tidbits like that from the puzzles. Ditto [Maximum number of marbles at play in a Chinese checkers game] for SIXTY or [Sheep species originating in Siberia] for BIG HORN or being reminded that the [Sides of a pie slice, geometrically] are RADII.

Some nicely related clue/fill pairs: a [Seer] is a SIBYL, someone who may have [Peered, as at a crystal ball] GAZED; [Like the 1890s, supposedly], the GAY '90s was a specific [Period of time], just after the Gilded AGE (1878-1889); and make sure everything's in order with your ERISA [Pension legislation acronym] or you may have the T-MAN [Revenuer, for short] after you!

And to bring it all back to the beginning, here's a link to picture of a Willy WONKA theme-FLOAT. YEOW!

Fred Jackson's Los Angeles Times crossword

The LAT puzzle pokes around the same region as the NYT puzzle: the Land of Letters Replacing Words That Sound Alike. This time, it's the beginning of a compound word or phrase that's changed from a short word to the single letter it sounds like. And then it's clued as if it has nothing to do with the original phrase. To wit: A pea-shooter becomes P SHOOTER, or [Photographer of a letter?]. An eyedropper turns into I DROPPER, or [One who can't hold a letter?]. The [Letter out for a stroll?] is a J WALKING (jaywalking). "Tea break" is the least in-the-language base phrase; it transforms into T BREAK, or [Letter's rest period?]. The [Undercover operation to trap a letter?] is the dreaded B STING (bee sting). And a sea captain becomes C CAPTAIN, or [Official in charge of a letter?].

I have to dock Jackson a couple points for including D-DAYS ([Times to attack]) in the fill—it looks like another of the theme entries, but "dee-days" means nothing. Maybe dee-days could be like months with an R—the rest of you maybe eat oysters only in the months that have an R, and I won't eat oysters on any day that has a D.

For more on today's crossword, see PuzzleGirl's L.A.C.C. post. She's got a photo that proves Scottish men are way better at the CURTSY ([Respectful gesture]) than I am.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Adenine"

Pronounce that title as "add a nine," convert into Roman numerals, and that's your theme: an added IX inserted into four familiar words or phrases to change 'em completely. Here are the theme entries:
  • 20A. DORSAL FIXIN'S are [Garnish for the tail?], building on "dorsal fins."
  • 30A. [Like some second-tier animation?] is SUB-PIXAR (subpar).
  • 47A. Potpie adds IX to become a POT PIXIE, or [Drug-dealing sprite?].
  • 57A. To STOCK QUIXOTE (stock quote) is to [Keep some essential Spanish fiction on the shelf?].

Favorite clues and answers:
  • 24A. COED is clued [Like some imaginary naked sporting events, on dumb old t-shirts].
  • Cute QDOBA/Q-TIPS qrossing. The latter are clued as [Cleaners that ought not to hit the drum, if you can help it]. Ear drum, that is.
  • 5D. MS. PACMAN is a [Maze classic].
  • 41D. JOYRIDES is a terrific crossword word. They're [Some pseudo-thefts].
  • 54D. TOOTS! After all these years of crossword clues that suggest this is a synonym for "sweetums" or "honey pie" or "darlin'," at last, a straight-up accurate clue: [Sexist address]. Thanks, Ben!