August 08, 2009

Sunday, 8/9

BG 8:35
LAT 7:18
NYT 6:35
PI untimed
CS 3:49
Patrick Berry's second Sunday variety puzzle 9:49

Patrick Blindauer and Andrea Carla Michaels' New York Times crossword, "Made for TV-Movies"

The title monkeys with the usual hyphenation of made-for-TV movies because each of the five 21-letter theme entries is a mashup of TV and movie titles (Jeopardy! "Before and After" category style), clued accordingly:

  • 22A. [Dirt-dishing lass who's been cut off?] is GOSSIP GIRL INTERRUPTED, combining the current TV show Gossip Girl with the Winona Ryder/Angelina Jolie movie, Girl, Interrupted.
  • 44A. [Dad is familiar with top Broadway star?] clues FATHER KNOWS BEST IN SHOW. I'm a little uncomfortable with this one because "best in show" is so familiar as a dog show phrase and it feels like too much of a stretch to apply it to whoever's the best in a Broadway show.
  • 66A. My favorite one is GREY'S ANATOMY OF A MURDER, or [Actor Joel's crime scene analysis].
  • 90A. [One-quarter of a mourning lacrosse team?] clues TWO AND A HALF MEN IN BLACK. Raise your hand if you already knew that a lacrosse team has 10 players. (My hand's down.)
  • 113A. SEX AND THE CITY OF ANGELS is clued as [Hollywood hanky-panky?]. Is City of Angels that mediocre Meg Ryan ghost movie, or is there a better movie by that title?

The theme didn't resonate much for me, but I liked a lot of the fill and I wasn't in the mood for a tough puzzle that worked my head so Andrea and Patrick's easy offering was right on target. Before moving along to the highlights, allow me to grumble about 93D: [Something you love to play with]. NEW TOY feels like a contrived phrase rather than a solidly in-the-language term. And now, on with the show:
  • 1A. Nutty trivia right off the bat! BALBOA is the [Explorer who has a monetary unit named after him].
  • 20A. "GO, IRISH!" is a [Notre Dame cry].
  • 25A. ESTIVAL! Fancy vocabulary word meaning [Summery], as in "of, relating to, or appearing in summer." Here is the beast in use.
  • 28A. PELE is the [Star of football, to most of the world]. Crazy Americans call the game soccer.
  • 58A. How many 5-letter words starting with I can answer [Epic poem in dactylic hexameter]? I went with ILIAD and it was right.
  • 87A. I think I've seen MAO clued as [Red head, once?] before. I would give $5 to see Kim Jong-Il dye his hair bright red.
  • 8D. WILL POWER is [Self-control]. There aren't a ton of two-W answers in crosswords, are there?
  • 15D. I like the clue for "'SUP?"—["How's it goin', man?]. Zippier than SUP = dine.
  • 34D. [Common setting in an Indiana Jones movie] is a LIBRARY? I was thinking of mines and snake pits.
  • 48D. Ooh, brilliant clue! [Bob or weave] is a HAIRDO.
  • 68D. THE RAMS are [Colorado State, athletically], as well as the NFL team in Los Angeles. (I don't care if they moved to St. Louis. The St. Louis football team, of course, is the Cardinals. And Arizona is a sparsely populated state with no major football teams. Have I got that right?)
  • 72D. MILAN [___ Kundera, author of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being"]—I loved the book, was disappointed by the movie. I was surprised by the number of people (several!) who walked out of the movie when I saw it.

A couple other comments: 124A: TANAKA is the answer to [Tomoyuki ___, creator of Godzilla]. I'm sure some of you comic/sci fi nerds knew that one, but I didn't. I'm talking about the folks who instantly knew that AQUAMAN was the 14D: [Superhero with an octopus named Topo]. 118D: [Stumblers' sounds] clues ERS, and I just grumbled about that in the Saturday LAT. When is there ever a reason to pluralize "er"? "Wow, that was a lot of ers in your lecture. You should have practced more"? Er, no. Sure, I'm used to this in crosswords, but "ambulances take people to ERs" seems like a more natural plural, doesn't it?

Updated Sunday morning:

Henry Hook's Boston Globe crossword, "Grad Tidings," in Across Lite

The most impressive part of this puzzle—in which 12 recipients of an HONORARY HARVARD DEGREE are presented—is the upper right corner where SEIJI OZAWA is stacked atop VACLAV HAVEL. Can you believe Hook found workable fill that crossed those two answers? Some of the crossings were know-it-or-you-don't stuff, like TRECE (Spanish for "thirteen," or [Unlucky "numero"]) and KAZAN (["On the Waterfront" director]), that won't give much help to solvers who can't spell SEIJI OZAWA or VACLAV HAVEL without blinking.

My toughest crossing was where CANIO meets OH KAY—one ["Pagliacci" role] I don't know crossing a [1926 Gershwins musical] I've never heard of. Second gnarliest crossing was [PCS file suffix] EPS providing the P in RIPSAW, clued with [It cuts with the grain]. I don't know what the EPS file type is.

INCAN is clued as [Vintage Peruvian]. I read at the Library of Congress's Exploring the Early Americas exhibition that the Incan Empire occupied a larger swath of land than any other empire in history, but the map here shows much less territory than the British Empire had in its heyday.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Truly Cheesy Puns"

Merl unleashes his inner punster (and his outer one) with a set of cheese puns:
  • 18A. [Cleans up after a cheesy party in Brooklyn?] clues CLEARS AWAY DE BRIE (playing on "debris").
  • 22A. [Small cheesy container?] is A LITTLE CHEDDAR BOX, and this answer is stacked right below 18A. I have no idea what the original, un-cheesed phrase is supposed to be. Fail! (Have you read lexicographer Ben Zimmer's "On Language" column in today's NYT Magazine? It's called "How Fail Went From Verb to Interjection" and it is 85 times more current and entertaining than William Safire's columns. I always like Safire's summer-vacation substitutes so much more than Safire. Why doesn't he retire already?)
  • 32A. [Cheesy soliloquy?] is a ROMANO-LOGUE.
  • 40A. MUENSTER MASH is clued as [Cheesy potatoes?].
  • 61A/69A. [A doctor's cheesy advice?] is TAKE TWO ASPIRIN AND / COLBY IN THE MORNING. On toast, that wouldn't be half bad.
  • 90A. [Cheesy cheer?] is SWISS-BOOM-BAH. I do not cheer for Swiss cheese.
  • 96A. This one monkeys around with the usual sound constraints for puns, changing Home Alone 2 into PROVOLONE II (also changing the Arabic 2 into Roman II). The clue is [Cheesy Macaulay Culkin sequel?].
  • 113A. Here's my favorite: THE ROQUEFORT FILES, playing on The Rockford Files, clued as a [Cheesy private-eye show?].
  • 119A. And my second favorite theme entry is RICOTTA MONTALBAN, a [Cheesy actor?]. I like the stacked TV references from my childhood here.

Favorite clue in the fill: [Life partner?] for LIMB, as in "life and limb."

Edgar Fontaine's syndicated Los Angeles Times crossword, "Initial Exposé"

Fontaine takes seven famous people who use initials in lieu of first and middle names, assigns them familiar phrases that could be expansions of their initials, and clues them accordingly:
  • [27A. [Author who's rarin' to write?] is EAGER BEAVER WHITE, for E.B. White.
  • 45A. H.G. Wells becomes HANG GLIDER WELLS, or [Daredevil writer?].
  • 67A. [Explosive blues singer?] is BIG BANG KING. B.B. King, of course, is not just a singer but also one of the best guitarists ever (ranked #3 on Rolling Stones top 100 list).
  • 92A. P.D. James becomes PILE DRIVER JAMES, a [Hard-hitting mystery writer?].
  • 109A. [Threatening, but harmless, showman?] clues PAPER TIGER BARNUM.
  • 15D. L.L. Bean turns into LABOR LEADER BEAN, or [Merchant who moonlights as a union boss?].
  • 44D. WEB BROWSER YEATS stands in for W.B. Yeats and is clued as [Poet surfing the Net?].

Moving beyond the theme, I raised an eyebrow at 6D, ["God Bless America" inning]. That's the SEVENTH, but at Wrigley Field, the seventh-inning stretch is when we sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Is this an L.A. or New York thing? The DIK-DIK (39D) is an [Antelope named for the sound it makes when frightened]. Anyone hit the skids where OTHO the 19A: [Emperor aftr Galba] met SHOGI, which is 3D: [Chess, Japanese-style]? There's a G-STRING at 9D: [It doesn't conceal much]. And in the category of Old-School Crosswordese, we have the THOLE, or 82A: [Pin on a rowboat]. My Mac's dictionary tells me THOLE is also a Scottish or archaic verb meaning "endure (something) with without resistance or complaint; tolerate." I thole crossword fill like THOLE.

Martin Ashwood-Smith's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge"

The king of triple-stacks ponies up a pair of triple-stacks in today's relatively easy puzzle, with the following 15-letter answers:
  • 1A. HIS MAJESTY'S SHIP is the [Bounty or Beagle's title], England having a king rather than a queen when the ships were out there.
  • 16A. EMPEROR HIROHITO was the [Ruler called "Tenno"]. Tough clue—I've never seen Tenno before.
  • 17A. [Pixar, for one] is an ANIMATION STUDIO, and a kickass one at that.
  • 54A. ["Hello?"] "WHERE IS EVERYONE?" Perfect clue/answer combo, and a colorful entry to boot.
  • 58A. ANGELS IN AMERICA is an [Award-winning HBO miniseries of 2003] as well as a play by Tony Kushner. Brilliant stuff, and amazing performances in the HBO adaptation. Rent it if you never saw it.
  • 59A. Apparently something called BOOTS AND SADDLES was a [Classic TV western of 1957].

Five quick hits from the rest of the puzzle:
  • 28D. NOON is [When both hands are up?] on a clock.
  • 12D. A [Big snapper] of photos is a SHUTTERBUG.
  • 34D. A ewer is a water pitcher, and a [Ewer's adjunct] is a HAND BASIN. not a familiar term for me.
  • 8D. The foot mentions aren't about those 12" units of measure. 8D: [It's about a foot] refers to a SHOE, and 48A: [It's under a foot] clues the SOLE of your shoe.
  • 45A. Terrific clue for BLAB: 43A: [State secrets] is a verb phrase (i.e., tell secrets) and not a the familiar noun phrase "state secrets."

Patrick Berry's variety crossword, "Ringing Endorsement"—the NYT's second Sunday puzzle

I hope the Magazine section made space for this puzzle because it's brilliantly conceived and executed. If the millions of people who get the Sunday Times but wouldn't bother to dig around online for a puzzle miss out, they're...really missing out.

The 15x15 grid has no black squares separating the answers in a given row or column, and sometimes the crossing answers have a conflict because a square needs a different letter in each direction. How clever is it to have those intersections marked by the always-there letter O as a ring around the other letter? And how on earth did Patrick Berry manage to not just fill the grid with workable answers but also get those O-plus-another-letter crossings to fit just so and to get the circled letters to spell something out AND to include theme entries as the first and last Across answers? The mind, she boggles. And then the title is "Ringing Endorsement," a familiar phrase—and the theme is "an endorsement of sorts." This puzzle is so elegantly wrought.

Will Shortz, please beg Patrick Berry to make a bunch more of these and publish them in the Times. Patrick Berry, please get to work on a sequel to Puzzle Masterpieces and include more of these puzzles. I recognize that the "Ringing Endorsement" title wouldn't necessarily be an apt description for other puzzles in this vein, but that's OK—I just want more of these challenges.

The [Speaker of this puzzle's endorsement] is O. HENRY, and [What this puzzle's endorsement refers to] is NEW YORK CITY. The circled squares spell out this: "It'll be a great place if they ever finish it." I found I'd missed a couple of the ringed O crossings when I was reading the circled letters, having not checked every crossing clue, but it all came together in the end, wrapped up in a bow.