August 01, 2009

Sunday, 8/2

NYT 10:53
BG 8:38
PI 8:35
LAT 8:15ish, if I recall correctly
CS 3:23

Patrick Berry's New York Times crossword, "Group Formation"

This is definitely a challenging puzzle, this Sunday-sized beast with 12 rebus squares containing, I think, 10 11 different GREEK LETTERS (with THETA and PHI appearing twice) but with 14 13 other Greek letters floating in the ether as candidate rebus fillers. The theme is embodied by 108A: FRATERNITIES, or [Four groups found in this puzzle], whose names are each made up of three GREEK LETTERS (23A: [Contents of four answers found in this puzzle]. Mind you, if you filled in your grid with the actual Greek letters rather than their spelled-out English names, you'd have a dickens of a time with the crossings—those 12 answers are non-thematic but contain a spelled-out Greek character. Here are the frats (found in symmetrical spots in the grid) and their crossings:

  • 34A: [Group formed at C.C.N.Y. in 1910] is TAU THETA DELTA PHI. The TAU is in 14D: GREAT AUNT, or [Social reformer Margaret Fuller, to Buckminster Fuller]. THETA DELTA inhabits something I've never heard of, 35D: THE TACODEL TACO, a [Mexican-style fast-food chain]. And this PHI instance is part of 26D: SOPHIE, an early [Meryl Streep title role]. (Edited to say: Well, that's odd. The applet accepted a T for THETA where it should have demanded a D for DELTA. How the hell are you supposed to know you need a completely different unfamiliar fast-food chain if the applet accepts your incorrect answer??)
  • 93A: OMEGA PSI PHI is a [Group formed at Howard University in 1911]. OMEGA nestles beautifully into 90D: HOME GAME, or [Match played at the local arena]. 85D: [Product with a circular red, white and blue logo] is PEPSI Cola. And an 86D: AMPHIBIAN is a [Semiterrestrial organism]. That "organism" made me think of teeny things like ALGA (12A: [Pond organism]) rather than vertebrates.
  • 39D: The [Group formed at Miami University in 1839] is BETA THETA PI. The 37A crossing is where I first figured out there was a Greek letter rebus happening; [Roof of the World natives] are TIBETANS. The second THETA is in 47A: ON THE TAKE, or [Accepting bribes]. 50A: AMERICAN PIE, or [1971 album dedicated to Buddy Holly], had a fairly straightforward clue, but for a while there (before TIBETANS) I had no idea where the rebus was going to settle.
  • 79D: [Group formed at Trinity College in 1895] clues ALPHA CHI RHO. 78A: [Co-organizer of the Montgomery bus boycott, 1955] was RALPH ABERNATHY. 87A: [Bavaria and others, once] were DUCHIES. And 91A: [Engine attachment] is an AIR HOSE.

Now, that's a demanding theme for the solver to piece together—not to mention a phenomenal feat of construction. The task of filling in the puzzle wasn't made any easier by the overall cluing, was it? Here are some of the tougher spots, if you ask me:
  • 1A: [It's open for dinner], with no question mark, clues MOUTH. A trick right up there at 1-Across! With a hard clue right below it, 19A: SUSHI, or [Dish that may be served on a boat]. I don't eat sushi, so this boat connection is a mystery to me. Right below that, theme answer GREEK LETTERS sitting atop a spelling variant with a twisty clue: 27A: FREEBEE (usually freebie) is clued as [Good for nothing?]. I don't quite grasp the clue/answer equivalency here.
  • 28A, 33A: [Alexander the Great conquered it]. PERSIA and IONIA.
  • 36A: The MIRV is a [Weapon with many warheads]. Is that the other answer Bill Clinton considered for the ICBM spot in Merl's puzzle in Wordplay? I don't know what it's short for.
  • 45A: Still/again in the northwest corner, MACED gets a misleading clue, [Given an eyeful, you might say].
  • 64A: The [1992 Damon Wayans comedy] is called MO' MONEY.
  • 67A: TOMCATS gets a [Womanizers, slangily] clue. I'm more familiar with the verb, tomcatting around.
  • 75A: Greasy ol' OLEO is [Something that's been clarified].
  • 85A: [Renaissance painer Uccello], 5 letters, I dunno, PAOLO? That'll work.
  • 103A: To [Fill a box, say] is to EMPANEL—provided the box in question is a jury box.
  • 29D: [Most corrugated] clues RIPPLIEST. Ow. How about cluing this -EST word with reference to whatever famous guy has the rippliest abs? Ryan Reynolds' abs might be the rippliest in Hollywood today, judging by the recent Entertainment Weekly cover.

And these were the entries I thought were really cool:
  • 61D: YOUR HONOR is a [Term for a judge].
  • 46D: DIVINES is clued [Figures out intuitively].
  • 25A: KNEESOCK? [It covers a lot of leg].
  • 4D: THE RIVER is a [1980 double album by Springsteen].
  • 70A: [Cars that go toward other cars] are TRADE-INS.
  • 64D: [Nyasaland, nowadays] is called MALAWI. Geography!
  • 69D: BAILIWICKS is a great word, isn't it? It means [Areas of expertise].
  • 80D: APPLETON is the [Wisconsin home of Lawrence University]. I went there almost 20 years ago for my sister-in-law's graduation. We had Mongolian barbecue for dinner. Did all of those places disappear? I haven't seen one in years.
  • 87D: Roger DALTREY is [The Who's lead singer]. Do you get the Palladium channel in your cable TV subscription? That's where we get all our televised Who these days. Good stuff, especially in HD.

Updated Sunday morning:

There's a lot to do to get ready for vacation—the repotted herbs don't look properly planted, we haven't started packing at all, I need to charge up the laptop, I gotta test-solve puzzles for Brian and Ryan's Lollapuzzoola 2 tournament (top-notch constructors!), and there are still so many crosswords to blog about today. Can I finish before lunchtime? I'm going to try!

Nancy Salomon's syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, "At the Y"

The theme entries contain one or two added Ys that change the meaning. My favorites:
  • 95A. [Thick stick-in-the-mud?] is a DENSE FOGY.
  • 49A. [Cheer from an ass?] is a promising clue, isn't it? It's evocative. But it's not that kind of ass, it's a donkey with a SUPPORT BRAY. Gotta love a theme answer based on SUPPORT BRA, don't you?
  • 43D. The copy [Editor's mixed bag?] is GOOD COPY, BAD COPY, playing on "good cop, bad cop." That's such a lively phrase to build on, and then the theme entry is a sop to hard-working editors everywhere. Yay!

For more on this puzzle, I refer you to PuzzleGirl's L.A. Crossword Confidential review.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "None of Your Business"

Merl's theme answers are 13 companies, some (e.g., TIME WARNER, PRICE WATERHOUSE) with old names. Merl annotates the puzzle with this explanation: "Some of the companies in this puzzle have gone through mergers in recent years, but I'm using their earlier, simpler names." Each is clued [It doesn't sell ___], with various things filling in the blank. 82D: RUBBERMAID is clued [It doesn't sell inflatable dolls]. Eww! 127A: UPJOHN gets [It doesn't sell toilet seats]; 72A: PRICE WATERHOUSE is [It doesn't sell pay toilets]. Two toilet theme clues! We don't see that often. My first thought for 26A: [It doesn't sell Band-Aids] was CURAD (before I knew what the theme was), but it's HERTZ, which sounds like "hurts."

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's Boston Globe crossword, "Gimme Five"

Each of the 10 theme entries contains a different letter five times. I don't think the specific letters have any grander meaning. In order, they're ASOLIRTNEP, which can be anagrammed to..."STOP! I LEARN!"...or POSTAL REIN...or POLE STRAIN. Okay, I think they're just 10 random letters. LUCILLE BALL is a [Comedy star with five] Ls. "TUTTI FRUTTI" is the [Little Richard hit with five] Ts. PRIMITIVISTIC is a not-so-common word meaning [Quite simple, with five] Is. And so it goes.

There were a couple answers that were wildly unfamiliar to me. 93A is clued [A.k.a. gannet] and the answer is SOLAN. The dictionary tells me the solan, or solan goose, is another name for the northern gannet, and gannets in general are large seabirds with mostly white plumage that plunge-dive to catch fish. The crossings were pretty straightforward, so I got this answer, I just didn't recognize it.

The other mystery word was 6D: ["Roman de Brut" poet]. WACE? That W was my last letter, because the crossing [Tape-measured area] wasn't necessarily going to be a body part like the WAIST. Who is Wace? Turns out he was an Anglo-Norman poet about 850 years ago. "Roman de Brut" "is a verse literary history of Britain by the poet Wace. Written in the Norman language, it consists of 14,866 lines."—so says Wikipedia. I can't read Norman. My high school didn't offer the language.

Randolph Ross's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge"

Nobody seems to have paid the slightest attention to the changing highlight colors in my Across Lite solution grids. At Rex Parker's blog and at L.A. Crossword Confidential, newcomers often ask "What is the significance of the blue square?" They're sure they're missing something important, but no. The color scheme in this puzzle is courtesy of my son. Looks like Valentine's Day to me.

Now, as to the letters in the crossword: My favorite part of this puzzle is the 1A/15A/17A stack:
  • 1A. GOLF CART is a [Vehicle for drivers] who are driving golf balls.
  • 15A. "I'M A LOSER" is a [Song on the "Beatles '65" album].
  • 17A. MONA LISA is, among other things, '"The Da Vinci Code" cover girl].

Some of the fill feels like the sort of language we encounter mainly in crosswords:
  • 33A. IN A SNIT means [Ticked] or mad. "They were in such a snit, they couldn't stop having SET-TOS," or 59A: [Blow-ups].
  • 40A. NABES are neighborhood [Nearby movie houses].
  • 45A. [Painting like a pointillist] clues DOTTING. Is this a verb we use much? Nah.
  • 52A. [Sweetened] clues HONIED. It's in the dictionary as an "also" spelling, but what's the motivation to spell it that way rather than honeyed?
  • 45D. DADOS are [Carpentry striae]. Striae?

You know how ONE LOOK should've been clued, rather than 37A: [Brief peek]? As [Web site that can help you fill in the blanks in a crossword puzzle]. is handy when you're constructing by hand and need to know what words will fit a particular letter pattern. ?N?L??K, for example, could also be unblock, unsleek, uncloak, and some other things that would make unsuitable crossword fill.