September 22, 2009

Wednesday, 9/23/09

Trip Payne's "Themeless Challenger #6" 8:08
Onion 5:12
NYT 3:27
LAT 3:03
CS untimed
BEQ 11:50 (Downs only)

Jonathan Gersch's New York Times crossword

The applet's buggy tonight, so I can't swear my Across Lite solution is correct.

We get a history lesson in today's puzzle. Wikipedia tells me that it was September 11, 1609—just a hair over 400 years ago—that Hudson reached New York by boat. Can you imagine his surprise when he sailed up the Hudson River for the first time? "Dude! This river has the same name as me!"

The theme entries give you the details:

  • 1A, 69A. [Ship of 55-Across] is the HALF MOON, which I half-knew only because I'd half-learned that from N.Y. Sun crosswords. The ship was also called Halve Maen in Dutch, thanks to the Dutch East India Company's general Dutchiness.
  • 18A. The DISCOVERY is the [Aptly named ship on a later voyage of 55-Across].
  • 20A. His intended shortcut route to Asia was through the ARCTIC OCEAN, a [Body of water sailed in by 55-Across].
  • 26A. [Like most of the voyages of 55-Across] clues TRANSATLANTIC. It's that transarctic voyage that's a doozy.
  • 46A. NEW YORK HARBOR is given a cross-reference clue, [See 55-Across]. Tired of all the 55-Across cross-references yet?
  • 55A. Oh, here he is, at long last: HENRY HUDSON, the [Explorer who sailed into 46-Across in 1609].
  • 61A. [55-Across's destination when returning to Europe] was AMSTERDAM. Probably liked the legal pot, right?
  • 67A, 8A. This two-part answer is in reverse order. The SPICE TRADE is clued as the [business of 55-Across's backers], the aforementioned Dutch East India Company.
Did I count wrong, or are there really 84 theme squares in this puzzle? That's a huge amount of theme material. The short fill is fairly standard, nothing special but also not remotely as compromised as it could be given the thematic density. I will call this puzzle a success.

And then there's the cute HOAX/COAX crossing ([Bigfoot photo, e.g.] and [Say "Pretty please?," say]), plus a smattering of cool longish fill. Do you know what the singular of TSONGAS ([1992 presidential aspirant Paul]) is? Two Paul TSONGAS, one Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. (One's Greek-American, the other's Congolese-French.) The colloquial "SO THERE!" is clued with ["Told ya!"], and a HOODLUM is a [Tough] with a tough clue that looks like an adjective rather than a noun.

Trip Payne's "Themeless Challenger #6"

Trip has posted a new puzzle at Triple Play Puzzles—a 21x21 themeless puzzle. No spoilers in this write-up because I figure few of you have seen the puzzle yet. But you should! Just follow the link at the very top of this post and scroll down to the Sept. 22 addition; the crossword's available in both Across Lite and PDF.

I don't tend to love the structural record-breaker puzzles because all too often the pursuit of a record becomes more important than the solver's enjoyment. Trip reports that "this puzzle ties the record for fewest black squares in a 21x21 puzzle, with just 51," and the result is triple-stacked 13s and 9s hooked up to stair-stepping swaths of 7s. Sounds like a recipe for crapola fill, right? Wrong. Most of the longer answers are super colorful entries, and there was only one answer (21A) I found utterly unfamiliar. My only quibble with this puzzle is that Trip calls it "difficult" and I found it much more pliable than I expected.

Keep 'em coming, Trip! I loved this crossword.

(Thanks to Tuning Spork for the heads-up in comments on a previous post.)

Updated Wednesday morning:

Donna S. Levin's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Artistic License"—Janie's review

From Donna's atelier comes a shout out to the fine arts—the kind you're likely to hang on the wall. The first word of each of the lively theme-phrases is a word associated with the artist's world:
  • 17A. PAINT THE TOWN RED [Go on a spree]. This grid-spanner would quite literally be the most vivid of the theme-fill as well.
  • 27A. CANVAS TOTE BAG [Ecofriendly shopping sack]. I love that some grocery stores are now deducting the cost of shopping bags if you bring (and use...) your own.
  • 44A. MODEL AIRPLANE [Hobby shop purchase]. Right below that fill is VISE [Carpenter's clamp]. Bringing the two together, under "Specialty Vises," there's a description at this linked site of a "Model Maker's Vise."
  • 56A. STUDIO APARTMENT [One-room abode]. Another 15-letter phrase—and a reminder of my digs for my first 20-some years in NYC...
Before looking at some of the nifty fill tie-ins, I want to note some nifty clue/fill combos:
  • [Tried to get a seat] does not refer to a game of Musical Chairs. This is what our local politicos did at the primaries Tuesday a week ago. They RAN for office.
  • Then there's that [Cream puff in the batter's box]. No. This does not refer to a snack to be shared by the team. This is the player who's felt to be an EASY OUT.
  • [Miss in Maui, perhaps] is not a verb phrase. The Hawaiian word for a young woman (or wife; or surfer...) is WAHINE.
  • [It's almost always found at a tilt] does not refer to something that is not level. A tilt is also a jousting match and what'll ya find there? A knight on horseback with his LANCE. Although as you'll see from this statue, that lance was very likely to be held at a the tilt.
Now, perhaps I'm taking some artistic license of my own (for a change...), but it seems to me it's not just painting that Donna gives attention to today. There are other arts as well: drama, the spoken and written word, photography, dance. If you [Emulate Cicero] and ORATE—or if you're a vocalist or you ACT [Tread the boards]—you need a good set of PIPES, i.e, a good [Voice, slangily]. (Btw, where board-treading is concerned, Mark Twain and Bret Harte WROTE the play ["Ah] SIN, and Karel Čapek wrote R.U.R.) A PHOTO OP gives shutterbugs the chance to do their best, whether that op is scheduled (like a [PR event...] or serendipitous. Oh, yes—Donna also includes the dance world by way of PLIÉ [Ballet bend]. Though his medium for his dance portraits was so often pastel, here is a link to "La classe de danse," a Degas masterpiece in oil set in the dance studio.

The other set of fill tie-ins work off of the lovely BROKE BREAD [Dined, quaintly]. What's on the table? Well, it's loaded with vitamins (and not to everyone's taste...), but there's SWISS CHARD [Leafy vegetable in the beet family], that SPEAR [Asparagus unit], and BLINI [Putin's pancakes]. Another meal entry is SEDER [Paschal feast]. But forget the bread. Here you'll break matzoh. (p.s. I like the way BROKAW crosses broke bread; and in the name of ecumenicism, do note that in the grid, POPE [Bishop of Rome] sits UPON PEW [Basilica bench].)

Two more things: notice how the underworld has grown. Today we see both POSSE [Homey's entourage] and CAPO, name for a Mafia [Underboss]. Far less (potentially) threatening (though probably just as political in its own way...) are the (Benevolent and Protective Order of) Elks—or the B.P.O.E. Those'd be the [Lodge letters].

Bruce Venzke and Stella Daily's Los Angeles Times crossword

Today's L.A. Crossword Confidential writeup is by me. Ergo, edited excerpts!

Four phrases begin with words that mean "healthy"
It took me a while to see what the theme was here. That was complicated a tad by the Across eight-letter answers, which looked like they could be part of the theme—SOB STORY and LOUSED UP are just good fill, though, not theme entries.

Theme answers:
  • 17A: [Hydration from underground] (WELL WATER).
  • 29A: [Thunder on a radio show, e.g.] (SOUND EFFECT).
  • 45A: [In a rage] (FIT TO BE TIED).
  • 61A: [House majority leader of the early 1970s] (HALE BOGGS). He died in '72, when I was six. I wasn't following congressional politics much at that age.
What else have we got here?
  • In the "Make up your mind already" category, we have battling pronouncements: "I'M READY!" (21A: ["All set!"]) and "I'M LATE" (56A: [White Rabbit's cry]).
  • 40A: [Undiversified, as a farm] clues the adjective ONE-CROP. I like to use that metaphorically. "This relationship is so ONE-CROP. I feel stifled."
  • 69A: [Not tagged in time] (SAFE). As in the baseball call.
  • 67A: [Cousins of hamlets] (TOWNS). Hmm, I wonder if Bruce and Stella originally had a trickier clue such as [Hamlets' cousins]. I like clues that fool you by playing with capital letters—small-h hamlet is a town, while big-H Hamlet is the moody Dane.
  • 1D: [Dog's dogs?] (PAWS). I don't think I've ever once said "My dogs are barking" to mean "my feet are tired," but I know it's a common enough phrase. Cute clue.
  • 9D: [Payment from a contestant] (ENTRY FEE). Hey, if you're planning to attend this winter's American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, you should be aware that the dates have changed: February 19-21, 2010.
  • 43D: [Tie settlers, for short] (OTS). Meaning overtimes that settle a tied game. Anyone try to understand this clue as being about pioneer-type settlers?
Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Machine Shop: A very P.C. puzzle"

This puzzle was labeled "easy" so I decided to work it with just the Down clues. Big mistake! It's not easy enough for that. It took me 50% longer than Trip's themeless 21x21. Cute theme, which it took me forever to suss out. I was thinking of industrial machines, and the CRAFT at the end of one theme entry didn't dissuade me from that theory. The theme answers all begin with computer brands: H.P. LOVECRAFT (hey-o, shout-out to Al Sanders' job!), APPLE PIE ORDER, DELL MAGAZINES (which I had as the mystifying DOLL MAGAZINES for a while, what with not reading the Across clues), and GATEWAY DRUG.

REUBENS is clued as [Sandwiches with corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese] rather than with reference to Paul Reubens, who has a new Twitter feed. It's not entertaining yet. Give it time. Or just follow my Twitter feed instead: OrangeXW.

26D was a fun one to figure out without the Acrosses. [Flair], *I****...hmm...why not fill three of those blanks with Z? PIZAZZ is always good. That reminds me of Matt Gaffney's Kaidoku book, where thinking of common letters is invariably the wrong approach because he's snuck the uncommon ones in a zillion times instead. If you like Kaidoku (a.k.a. code crosswords), check out Alex Boisvert's blog for puzzles from Alex, Matt, and assorted guests.

Tyler Hinman's Onion A.V. Club crossword

Tyler riffs on FANTASY FOOTBALL by redefining four football terms as if they pertained to fantasy/role-playing sorts of video games. That is not the sort of theme that's going to resonate strongly with me, is it? No, it is not.

What else is in this puzzle? CHARISMA is clued as a [Pick-up artist's asset]. Eww, "pick-up artists." Read about the abhorrent underpinnings of the PUA philosophy.

BASENJI is a cool-looking word. It's a breed of [Dog that can't bark]. There's some standard crossword fill, more sports (DPS, RESEED, UTES, LAY IN, NET, CLE), pop culture, Shakespeare, a good mix of stuff. Favorite clues: [Runner?] for POL(itician), [See stars, perhaps?] for LOOK UP; and [Without dissent, phallocentrically] for TO A MAN. The puzzles Ben Tausig edits or creates seem much more likely than the daily newspaper puzzles to allude to sexist language via clueing—I love that!