August 26, 2009

Thursday, 8/27/09

NYT 4:17
LAT 3:33
CS 7:23 (J—paper)
Tausig untimed

Did you do the Wednesday NYT crossword? If so, did you read Ryan's "Ryan and Brian do Crosswords" post? Ryan and Brian both are seriously funny, and their takes on the daily puzzle skew a different direction from the other bloggers. Based on the comments, it would appear that about a dozen people read Ryan and Brian's posts, but they absolutely deserve a larger audience. Give 'em a whirl if you haven't before.

In a few days, Eric Berlin is releasing his suite of nine puzzles with a board game theme to an elite group consisting of "people who are willing to buy good puzzles." I ponied up a few bucks via, but you can still join the cool kids. Go here for more info and handy-dandy PayPal/Amazon e-tail links. Eric created the Brooklyn-themed suite of puzzles many of us enjoyed the hell out of at the ACPT last year, and the new batch of puzzles promises to be equally fun (and of top quality).

Derek Bowman's New York Times crossword

Oh! Look at that. I hadn't taken the time to see what the words in the circled letters were because usually, the crossings were sufficient to reveal the answers with clues like [Second row]. But those circled letters make a...triangular word ladder? I'm not sure what the name is for a series of words in which one letter is removed at each step, but this one plays out like this, and those triangulated words clue answers as follows:

PATTERN (First row, 52A: DESIGN)
PATTER (Second row, 51D: SPIEL)
PATER (Third row, 43D: DAD)
PATE (Fourth row, 64A: HEAD)
PAT (Fifth row, 4D: DAB)
PA (Sixth row, also 43D: DAD)
A (Seventh row, 60D: ONE)

That's a nifty gimmick, one I've not seen before—definite bonus points for originality and thematic gutsiness. More bonus points for having 17 answers in the 6- to 9-letter range. And then we must dock a few points for the slew of icky 3- and 4-letter answers and the out-there, so-old-it's-crosswordese-I-don't-even-recognize EPHOR (2D: [Ancient Spartan magistrate]!). All things considered, I'll give this a thumbs up with mild reservations. It looks cool.

Among the knottier clues are these:

  • 1A. Did everyone immediately get BEAD for [Moccasin adornment]? I confess to getting a tassel loafer brain block here.
  • 33A. We don't get a lot of plural last name answers, do we? ASTAIRES looks weird. Fred and Adele were a [Brother-and-sister dancing duo].
  • 37A. The explosive TNT has the chemical formula of [C7H5N3O6]. Pretend the numbers are subscripted, will ya?
  • 46A. One [Stereo component] is a PREAMP.
  • 56A. Dang, I actually type "OMG" on occasion and yet [Online gasp] had me befuddled for a bit.
  • 67A/45D. [Suffix akin to -trix] pulls double duty, but...double suffixes? Meh. They're -ENNE and -ESS.
  • 5D. STALE AIR is reasonable enough but looks odd in the grid. It's clued as the [Result of poor ventilation]. Eww. I'm smelling it now.
  • 7D. Move over, skater Midori, judge Lance, and partial "What was ___ think?"—there's a new ITO in town, and it's the [Japanese butler in "Auntie Mame"].
  • 12D. Crosswords have trained you to expect an EASEL when you see a clue like [Support for the arts?], haven't they? This time, it's a PEDESTAL instead.
  • 33D. Dude, Roddenberry did more than Star Trek? Really? ANDROMEDA is a [Gene Roddenberry-inspired sci-fi series]. Or did he merely inspire it rather than work on it? Hey, anyone think that the Sci Fi Channel's official new spelling, SyFy, will ever catch on?
  • 34D. STEEL GREY with the British E spelling is a [Metallic shade, in Sheffield].
  • 48D. The clue for PROSY is [Like plain text]. The dictionary I'm consulting defines the word as "showing no imagination; commonplace or dull." I was gonna say my blog was PROSY, but I take it back.

So, where did this bells-and-whistles, look-at-me puzzle land on your enjoyment spectrum? Closer to the "wow" or the "meh" end of things? As I said, I'm a little more on the "wow" end but with reservations. The concept is cool, and I'd like to see if another puzzle with a different set of pyramid words might play out more smoothly. There must be a few other seven-down-to-one-letter word ladders like this, no?

Updated Thursday morning:

Donna S. Levin's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Heart of Gold"—Janie's review

Talk about yer "sparkly" fill...

52D tells us that [79] is the AT. NO. [for the chem. symbol at the heart of the four longest puzzle answers] to be found in Donna's grid. And that would be the atomic number for AU (from the Latin aurum)—or gold. Whether the symbol falls in the fifth and sixth squares or in the sixth and seventh, it always falls right in the middle—at the heart—of the theme phrase. Nice. And here're the four precious (metal) theme-phrases themselves:
  • 18A. [Mr. Darcy's creator] JANE AUSTEN.
  • 25A. [Official national verse writer] POET LAUREATE. The link'll take you to a list of folks who've been so designated in the U.S.
  • 42A. [Cheeseheads' stadium] LAMBEAU FIELD. This was my fave. Why? First of all I loved seeing cheeseheads in the clue—and in case ya didn't know, those are folks from Wisconsin, the dairy state. Second of all, I had no idea of the stadium's name, and remained unenlightened even after filling in the grid correctly. For others who may also have been in the dark, the field is home to the NFL's Green Bay Packers and is named for team founder and first coach Curly Lambeau, a titan of sportsman. As a freshman player at Notre Dame, he scored the first of the team's TDS under newly-appointed coach Knute Rockne. Cool, huh? Then, I also liked his last name (French for "scrap, rag or tatter") and followed the "French connection" in such fill as the Marquis DE SADE and its appropriate next-door neighbor OUTRÉ [Way beyond the norm]—and the clue [Passé] for OUT-DATED.
  • 53A. [Reverse course] MAKE A U-TURN. Another good one. I like the way the letters are spaced out in the phrase—and I like seeing the whole phrase in the grid, all spelled out—so there's no need to discuss the (arguably) more accepted spelling: is it "U-IE" or is it "U-EY"? Phooey.
Other fill/clues that illuminate the puzzle include: [Dolls or Clusters preceder] for GOO GOO; the verbal cluster of FREER for [Less inhibited], which might predispose you to behaving in an [Affectionate] FOND way towards someone, which might lead to some [Togetherness] UNITY; and [Cancún coin] PESO—which might go towards the cost of a FAJITA [Grilled Tex-Mex dish].

The other combo that really grabbed me today was [Logger's leftover] for STUMP. Are many of you aware of the brief but wildly destructive storm that passed through Manhattan Tuesday a week ago (8/18)? Winds of up to 70 miles per hour in something called "micro bursts" or "down bursts" swept through the city and wreaked wild-crazy havoc on Central Park, taking down some 200 trees and doing irreparable damage to literally hundreds more. The clean-up has been in effect from the get-go and will continue until the job's done, of course. But ya simply can't believe the extent of the damage. Here's a link to the Central Park Conservancy where you can read more—and also see some dramatic photo coverage. There's many a stump in Central Park these days where there used to be a tree. Alas!!

To close on a lighter note: Donna has also included three bonus "nuggets." Can ya find 'em?

Don Gagliardo's Los Angeles Times crossword

Today is crossword D-Day, with puzzles from Derek, Donna, and Don.

Don's puzzle is made on a budget, with three short symmetrical theme entries worth $1 (LOVED ONES, or 50A: [Adored bills?]), $5 (HIGH FIVES, or 23A: [Lofty bills?]), and $10 (TOP TENS, or 38A: [Superior bills?]), but no ROARING TWENTIES. Running downward at 8D, intersecting those three theme answers, is TERRIBLE TWOS, [Hated bills (that appropriately spoil this puzzle's symmetry)?] Hey, I love the $2 bill! Sure, it's a mere curiosity that nobody much got in the habit of using, but it looks great. The symmetry hiccup is at the L in TERRIBLE TWOS; for a symmetrical grid pattern, that square should've been black.

I do like asymmetry for a purpose, but this feels a little arbitrary. The phrases with numbers have nothing to do with currency, and the clues for those phrases have nothing to do with those denominations: $5 are neither lofty nor high. What I do like is the traditional crossword sticklers getting poked a little: Sure, we can have a theme entry that wrecks symmetry, but we're going to moralize and call it TERRIBLE because we know it's breaking the rules. If EXCELLENT TWOS was an actual phrase, it would fit thematically but the naughtiness of asymmetry wouldn't get a wink.

The toughest part of this puzzle, for me, was the northeast corner:
  • A pair of cross-referenced answers with a question-marked clue at 10A and 13D. The [opportunity for better luck] is NEXT / TIME, as in "better luck next time," but intersecting cross-referenced answers are rough.
  • [Et ___] with an up-in-the-air final letter at 16A. Is it ALII or ALIA? Only the crossing knows. The I in TIME dictated ALII.
  • At 19A, [Go-go go-between?] has a weird echo with the 24D: [Disco adjective] GO-GO. Even when I figured the clue wanted a word that completed a "go ___ go" phrase, TEAM didn't come to me right away. Go, Johnny, go! Go, you chicken fat, go. Go(ing to a go-)go.
  • A nonspecific [It's usually pd. monthly] at 11D. MTGE? An unabbreviated RENT? Here, it's ELEC., your electric bill.

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

This theme skirts around the trouble spots Brendan Quigley outlined for circled-letter themes. Five theme entries are all food items, and the spaced-out hidden words in the circled letters are a graphic representation of food contamination by various substances. Tying these together is the FDA at 71A: [Agcy. that sets (often surprisingly high) maximum standards for the amounts of the circled materials in edible goods]. Holy crap! The "circled materials" include:
  • HAIR, embedded here in a CHOCOLATE ECLAIR bar, a [Good Humor treat].
  • GLASS, strewn throughout MANGO LASSI, a [Sweet Indian drink].
  • MOLD dotting your MACARONI SALAD, a [Summer picnic staple].
  • GRIT, which probably couldn't actually work its way into GRAPEFRUIT, a [Source of some breakfast juice], unless you're talking about packaged grapefruit segments, in which case GRIT could indeed be introduced into the mix.
  • RUST in the BRUSSELS SPROUTS...well, I can't see how that would make 'em any worse. Ben's clue is a defense of the oft-maligned veggie: [Green veggies despised by many (not me - try frying them in butter)]. Hold the RUST.

Did this puzzle ruin your appetite? Because it didn't even touch on the allowable number of insect parts the FDA says are A-OK in the food supply. You can read up on the official limits here. For canned citrus fruit juice, for example, the limit is "5 or more Drosophila and other fly eggs per 250 ml or 1 or more maggots per 250 ml." Cornmeal has set limits for the number of whole insects, insect parts, rodent hairs, and rodent excreta. I wish I were kidding! Ben is right: the limits are indeed "often surprisingly high." Shall I go on? Just one more: In ground marjoram, the "insect filth" cap is "Average of 1175 or more insect fragments per 10 grams." I can't help wondering how much 1175 insect fragments weigh. Okay, I'll stop, thoroughly disheartened about the food supply. Good crossword, though!