August 10, 2009

Tuesday, 8/11

Jonesin' 3:52
LAT 3:25
NYT 3:08 (if you can't access the Across Lite version, you can solve online via applet but can't print from there)
CS 6:17 (J—paper)

Oliver Hill's New York Times crossword

There's a lot I like in this puzzle and a couple things that made me go all frowny. I don't like it when crosswords make me go all frowny. First the theme, then the good stuff, then the frownogenic stuff. The theme is FRENCH (52-Down) things at the beginning of the four longest answers:

  • 20A. DRESSING UP is a [Pre-costume ball activity], and French dressing is that sickly sweet salad dressing that can't hold a candle to balsamic vinaigrette.
  • 28A. HORN-RIMMED is clued as [Like Buddy Holly's glasses]. French horns are musical instruments, of course.
  • 46A. French fries are delicious, especially when sprinkled with parmesan and sea salt. [Prepares part of breakfast, say] clues FRIES AN EGG, which simply isn't a "thing" unto itself, this phrase. There are plenty of other "French ___" phrases to seed this puzzle (Revolution, Open, -Canadian, door, language, Quarter) to work with, so why go with the iffy FRIES AN EGG?
  • 57A. KISS ME, KATE is a [Cole Porter musical that's a play within a play].

The good stuff includes SO SUE ME (the snide ["Well, sorr-r-r-y!"]); the [Source of an oil used in aromatherapy], TEA TREE*; crazy CRIBBAGE, clued mystifyingly as a [Game to 31]; LET SLIP, or [Blurt out, say]; TOP DOG, or [Head honcho]; and SCOTSMAN, or [Tartan wearer]. On Saturday, I got together with Jenni, whom I met via crosswords, when she was in town for a conference. A crazy old man in a tartan kilt and tam was striding briskly around Millennium Park, approaching people and saluting. Is random saluting a Scottish thing?

The frownogenic stuff began with AGRIN. Or A-GRIN? It's clued as [Beaming] this a word? Wikipedia says it is: "Agrin is a large proteoglycan whose best characterised role is in the development of the neuromuscular junction during embryogenesis." There is an unspoken limit of using only one of the OTO/OTOE/UTE category per puzzle, and this one's got both OTO/[Oklahoma Indian] and UTES/[Salt Lake City team]. I know from crosswords that [Crow cousins] are DAWS, but that seems a tad crosswordesey for a Tuesday puzzle; the crossings, at least, are straightforward. As for the [Letter before gee], Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary backs up what a constructor friend once told me: the letter name is ef, not EFF. EFF is the euphemistic substitute for fuck, as in "eff off."

*Public service announcement: If you get pimples and your skin is too old to tolerate the drying of benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, try Desert Essence's Tea Tree Oil Blemish Touch Stick. It's a little roll-on with a pleasant enough herbal aroma, and you can find it at Whole Foods or Amazon. It's handy for bug bites and other minor skin irritations, too. Stings like hell on irritated skin, so try not to pick at things before applying it.

Updated Tuesday morning:

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Sneak Attack"—Janie's review

This is one cunning creation indeed. There are only three theme-phrases, but each one is a double-header. Beginning with a synonym for "sneak" (in the adjectival sense of "surprise"), this word combines with a noun to make a whimsical, if not a quite in-the-language, "new phrase." Then, if you keep only the first syllable of the adjective and combine it with that same noun, you get an honest-to-goodness in-the-language phrase. "Two! Two! Two fills in one!" And they are:
  • 20A. FURTIVE TRADER. Remove the "-tive" from furtive and you'll see that the [Surreptitious skin dealer?] came into life as a fur trader.
  • 37A. CLANDESTINE NAME. In the same way, [Scottish alias?] was once a clan name; and
  • 54A. COVERT FOUNDER, the [Elusive entrepreneur?] was once a co-founder.
The triple 6-columns in the NW and SE ain't too shabby neither. They BEEF UP those corners quite nicely, thank you. I'm especially partial to [Bring into harmony] for ATTUNE up there in the NW. It's the perfect complement to F-HOLE [Violin feature] in the SW. I also like seeing ADDLED clued as [In a fog] and TORSOS as [Bodies of art?] in the SE. If the NEEDLE on my applause meter were accurate, I could find out how you felt about these entries as well.

CHARISMA contributes to the lively feel of the fill and so do the colloquial phrases I'LL PAY and NO TIPS. From the Old Testament, we have not only ARARAT, a [Genesis peak], but also PLAGUE, a [Biblical torment]. You might want to check out Exodus for that...

A [Pound piece] is not a unit of currency, but a POEM. So's Ernest Thayer's "Casey at the Bat." The town where the slugger earned his immortality (while suffering his great humiliation) was MUDVILLE. If he was not destined to become an AL'ER, I still like to think that the "mighty Casey" recovered himself and later took the "Mudville nine" to unrecounted heights.

Allan Parrish's Los Angeles Times crossword

The theme entries end with theatrical things: a CAST acts out a PLAY on a SET constructed on the STAGE.

For more on this puzzle, check out PuzzleGirl's L.A. Crossword Confidential post. The first two commenters over there grumbled that the clue for SQUEEZE PLAY includes the word "play": [Baseball play that may be "suicide"]. Sports fans and cluing experts, is there a synonym for "baseball play" that doesn't include "play"? How would you get around this duplication?

The theme is on the subtle/nonobvious side, isn't it? I first pondered whether the first words of SQUEEZE PLAY, CRYSTAL SET ([Homemade radio] from back in the day), PLASTER CAST ([Common autograph site]), and FINAL STAGE ([Last part]) were the theme stars, but no. Hey, is FINAL STAGE a discrete "thing"?

Two crosswordese birds fly around the grid—SMEWS are [Diving ducks] and ERNS are [Seashore fliers]. KEYE is [Actor ___ Luke who played Chan's Number One Son in old films], and I needed all four crossings for that one. Is it just me, or is this whole enterprise distinctly Wednesday/Thursdayish by LAT standards?

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "No Ham for Me, Thanks"

These kosher theme entries have had their HAM deleted:
  • [Distorted Pearl Jam hit song?] takes on philosopher Jeremy Bentham and lops off his ham: "JEREMY," BENT.
  • [Group of radio users making music together?] are a CBER ORCHESTRA, playing on chamber orchestra.
  • A banana hammock is a skimpy men's swim brief, slangily. BANANA MOCK is clued as [The act of poking fun at yellow fruit?]. Lest you fret that MOCK is not a noun, it's in my dictionary as one: "[dated] an object of derision."

I could do without the ICE duplication between ICED OVER and ICEMAN, but it is a steamy August and maybe Matt made this puzzle a week or two ago when it was 105° in Portland. (There's also the English/German duplication of ENE, or east-northeast, and OST, "east" in German, clued as [Leipzig-to-Dusseldorf direction]—but I like the trickiness of a 3-letter answer to a direction clue that isn't in the SSE/ENE/NNW family.)

I didn't know O FORTUNA, the [Section of "Carmina Burana" used in "battle to the death" movie trailers]. "O, for tuna." Is this an ode to tuna fish? Lots of nice fill in this puzzle—something like 23 of the non-theme entries are 6+ letters long, and two corners have satiny smooth stacks of 7- and 8-letter answers.