September 29, 2009

Wednesday, 9/30/09

BEQ 4:17
Onion 4:05
NYT 3:52
LAT 2:43
CS untimed

Kevin Der's New York Times crossword

My in-house technical maven is busy troubleshooting a new backup drive on my desktop Mac, and my excuse for a slower-than-usual Wednesday time is that I'm not as accustomed to the smaller laptop keyboard.

Kevin's theme shot me straight back to that American lit class in my freshman year of college. We plowed through portions of the Norton Anthology of American Literature, including those Transcendentalists and the other authors writing from CONCORD, MA. That's the place spelled out by the circled letters in this puzzle, and the authors' names are split up hither and yon (but symmetrically):

  • 1A, 6A, 22A. RALPH WALDO EMERSON is one [noted 19th-century writer]. He wrote essays the content of which I have not retained.
  • 24A, 53A. The dark romantic writer NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE wrote memorable short stories including "Rappaccini's Daughter" as well as The Scarlet Letter. Some of his other book titles I am mainly familiar with from the Authors card game I loved as a kid. The new version Amazon sells includes traditional card suits and numbers in addition to the 13 authors and their four books apiece. I'm ordering it anyway.
  • 39A. The 15-letter LOUISA MAY ALCOTT fits in one long entry. Little Women is her best known novel.
  • 70A, 71A, 55A. HENRY DAVID THOREAU has the same letter counts for his three names as RWE, so he appears in the grid with THOREAU above the HENRY and DAVID. On Walden Pond, Transcendentalism...I think I read an excerpt and retained nothing.
So, the theme occupies 67 squares with the author names, plus a few more CONCORD, MA squares that don't coincide with the author answers. The other fill, sandwiched as it must be around nine theme entries, is a bit more prosaic. Nothing beyond the pale, but not much sparkle, either. I'm content with the blast-from-the-American-lit-past and the elegance of the Concord unifying element. I have never been to Concord, but I have eaten of the grapes and the grape jelly.

What's your favorite part of this crossword?

Updated Wednesday morning:

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Cake Toppers"—Janie's review

If you're thinkin' the theme-fill will be along the lines of CHOCOLATE ICING, COCONUT or CANDLES, you have another think comin'. While they're all of the decidedly non-edible variety, the theme-fill today is instead made up of two-word phrases whose first word also names a kind of cake. This give us some very tasty results, and here's the sampling of what Patrick has given us to [Snack on] EAT:
  • Pound cake by way of 17A. POUND SIGN [Symbol on a cell phone];
  • Sponge cake courtesy of 28A. SPONGE RUBBER [Latex-based padding material]. Never heard of sponge rubber, but the dictionary tells me that it's an "expanded rubber having a cellular structure; usually has interconnecting cells; used as resilient padding and as thermal insulation";
  • Marble cake from 47A. MARBLE STATUE [Michaelangelo's "David," e.g.]. (Hmm. Seems to me many folks do find him good enough to eat...); and
  • Coffee cake via 63A. COFFEE MUG [Vessel in a break room]. Always nice to have a mug o' coffee with one's coffee cake.
A DEB, as we all know, is a [Coming-out party honoree], and a coming-out party is a BIG DO [Significant event]. Lots of dancing at these dos, where, I suspect, the young men are still the ones who LEAD [Guide one's dance partner]. But I've never been to one, so I couldn't say for sure. I'm also thinking that a lot of [Titled ladies] DAMES may have had their "introduction to society" as debutantes. And that a lot of untitled ladies are pretty swell dames themselves!

The real icing on the cake, of course, is that Patrick has created yet another pangram. The ingredients of a pangram? All 26 letters of the alphabet. You can check. By virtue of such fill as JUNE BUG [Large brown beetle], the elegantly clued FLICKERS [Shimmers like a lit candle], EQUAL [Identical in value], OXIDE [Nitrous ___ (laughing gas)] (shades of Little Shop of Horrors), SLYNESS [Foxy quality] and LIZA [Judy's eldest daughter], they're all in there.

EGAD. I nearly forgot to mention that I enjoyed seeing GAME SHOW in the grid, and in the "who knew?" department, liked learning that U-HAUL has been a [Rental business since 1945]. Who knew?!

Chuck Deodene's Los Angeles Times crossword

Facial hair is the name of the game, and five types of mustaches appear in the grid, clued as the nouns the styles are named after. For photos, see my L.A. Crossword Confidential post.
  • 64A: [Each answer to a starred clue is a type of this] clues the Grand Unifying MUSTACHE.
  • 17A: [Evil Asian doctor in Sax Rohmer novels] is FU MANCHU. The Fu Manchu 'stache differs from the horseshoe in that the trailing ends extend beyond the chin.
  • 11D: [Scooter feature] is a HANDLEBAR. You don't see many of these today. Ballplayer Rollie Fingers is a notable handlebar sporter of recent years. The handlebar mustache is patently ridiculous, is it not?
  • 22D: [Tusked mammal] is a WALRUS).. Popularly recognized as the Wilford Brimley 'stache, this one was also observed on former U.N. ambassador John Bolton. It seems like such an odd match for a serious person, the walrus mustache. Does anybody want to kiss a man whose mustache covers his upper lip?
  • 35D: [Trotter's footwear item] is a HORSESHOE. "Trotter" also means an edible pig's foot. (Feh.) The horseshoe mustache is among my least favorite varieties of facial hair, right up there with muttonchops and a mustache-free full beard. The horseshoe seems to be au courant among the country/Southern fellas.
  • 36D: [Eyebrow cosmetic applicator] is one sort of PENCIL. This is a rather creepy-looking little mustache. John Waters has been sporting a pencil for decades. Wouldn't you think he'd grow tired of it at some point?
Today's Crosswordese 101 lesson (a daily feature at L.A. Crossword Confidential) focused on TRA, which also popped up in the NYT puzzle. It's part of the longer "tra-la" or "tra-la-la." TRA clues are generally along the lines of "musical syllable," "song syllable," "refrain syllable," "___ la la," or "la preceder." That's one of the things that makes TRA such lame crossword fill: Not only is it not something we say, not only is it a dangling fragment, but it's also something that does not lend itself to interesting clueing options. And yet we see it again and again.

Ben Tausig's Onion A.V. Club crossword

Even when I read the clue for the unifying answer, INK—59D: [Body art, colloquially, and this puzzle's theme]—I was still confused for a bit before the "aha" moment arrived. The five theme answers begin with tattoo types:
  • 17A. [Comprehensive spa treatment] is a FULL BODY MASSAGE, and a full body tattoo way to go.
  • 22A. [Material inside a jewel case] clues a CD's SLEEVE NOTES. Is that what liner notes are called these days? A sleeve tattoo covers the arm.
  • 35A. TEMPORARY WORKER is a [Distressingly common staff member]. Temporary tattoos! I am not at all afraid of getting those.
  • 51A. PRISON BREAK is a [Fox drama], and a prison tattoo is the sort that's applied with whatever materials are at hand. Prison tattoos identify which prison gang the wearer belongs to.
  • 57A. MILITARY HISTORY is the [Study of conflict]. "Military tattoo" has entirely un-INK-related meaning, but plenty of people in the armed forces get tattoos to reflect their experience. My grandpa got tattoos when he was in the Navy around 1919, but they were of a dragon and a lady. Those don't count, do they?
Is MOOTER a word? It's clued as 44D: [More debatable], but I feel its legitimacy is debatable.

Favorite clue: 53D: [Ben and Jen do it with each other] for RHYME.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Fireplaces"

Sometimes a fireplace is a HOT CORNER in the room, and a HOT CORNER is also the [Third baseman's domain, and a hint to this puzzle's theme]. The corners of the grid hold a {HOT} rebus, which appears as the word HOT in one direction and just the three letters HOT in the other. No, wait, {HOT}HOUSE and {HOT} POTATO both relate to heat. Then there's a cinnamon RED {HOT} candy crossing a {HOT}EL ROOM, "MAKE IT {HOT}" crossing a LONG S{HOT}, and MR. BIG S{HOT} crossing {HOT} POT. Highlights in the fill: BRUCE LEE, "IT'S A GIRL," HEXAGON, BRNO (what can I say? I'm a sucker for Czech place names that are vowel-deprived), EX-LAX (the [Dump assistant?]!), and many of the theme entries. No so fond of ENURING, the dangling NOT ONLY, and much of the 3- and 4-letter fill.

All righty, I've got to get some work done before my lunch date today. Later!