October 01, 2009

Friday, 10/2/09

NYT 5:10
CHE 4:46
LAT 3:17
CS untimed
BEQ it's a long story
WSJ 6:44

Check out the previous post for a link to Patrick Blindauer's new crossword project (and a free puzzle of Fridayish difficulty).

Brad Wilber's New York Times crossword

Brad WIlber's back with a six-pack of 11s and a six-pack of 10s in a smooth crossword. The highlights...in a bit. A thunderstorm's worrying my son at the moment. Back soon.

Okay, then. Favorite fill and clues:

  • 17A. PENN STATION [Its clock was featured in the 1945 film "The Clock"].
  • 27A. J.M. BARRIE was a [Best-selling children's author who became a baronet].
  • 35A. One [Diagnosis facilitator] is an MRI SCAN. Feels like we say "CT scan" and "CAT scan" but just "MRI," no scan, doesn't it?
  • 37A. PRISONS are [Where people do stretches], not a YOGA MAT. "In stir" means "in prison," but CAUSED A STIR (1A: [Rabble-roused]) is unrelated.
  • 48A. TREPAN is a [Mine shaft drill], sure, if you say so. It's also a hole saw used to cut a hole in the skull back in the day. Surgeons used to treat various ailments with trephination. "I need this like I need a hole in the head" probably had different connotations a couple hundred years ago.
  • 51A, 16A. Star Wars geek alert: ANI (Anakin Skywalker) is a [Boyhood nickname in "The Phantom Menace"], while OOLA was Princess Leia's ["Return of the Jedi" dancing girl] alter ego in the movie that demonstrated that George Lucas panders to young men.
  • 61A. I dunno about this clue: EMPIRE WAIST is a [Dress style that appears to lengthen the body]? Sure, but it also makes a lot of women look suspiciously pregnant.
  • 63A. Did you know that DAMN YANKEES was a [Modern retelling of the Faust legend]? I did not. Musical theater and I have little common ground.
  • 12D. [Actress Katharine Ross's actor-husband] is SAM ELLIOTT. I could picture the giant mustache, but blanked on his last name and started out with SAM HOUSTON.
  • 27D. My favorite entry today is JUMP THE GUN, or [Be too hasty].
  • 29D. BLIND ALLEY is also excellent. [It leads nowhere].
  • 36D, 39A. If you gotta have a couple Star Wars clues, you'd better have some wine. [Chardonnay alternative] is SOAVE, and it crosses PINOT, a [Wine option] that comes in black and gray options (pinot noir, the red, and pinot grigio or gris, the white).
  • 59D. [Be undefeated against, in sports lingo] is OWN. PWN is a closely related concept.
Less familiar things in this puzzle:
  • 15A. AUTO-REVERSE is a [Tape deck convenience]. It's called that? Is that when the tape player flips from the A side to the B side without making you pop the tape out, or is that auto-rewinding when it reaches the end?
  • 22A. [Ones maturing quickly, for short] is T-BILLS. I was thinking of fruit and adolescents.
  • 4D. ["Tempest," for one] is a SONATA. No idea whose SONATA it might be. Google tells me it's Beethoven. Do you know where he was born? If you know your composers' birthplaces (countries), try this Sporcle.com quiz.
  • 6D. [Comerica Park team, on scoreboards] is DET (roit). I don't even know what business Comerica is in.
  • 7D. I've only seen an episode or two of Nip/Tuck, so I didn't know AVA was ["Nip/Tuck" character Moore].
  • 10D. [A couple of words after the race] clues IS ON, as in "the race is on." This answer/clue combo kinda stinks, doesn't it?
  • 11D. I just figured out what this clue meant. [People may ask you to do this] means People magazine. I got RENEW as the answer, but without realizing it was People, not small-p people.
  • 28D. [1941 Jimmy Dorsey chart-topper] is MARIA ELENA.
Pretty much a standard Friday level of difficulty, no? Just enough challenge without being too easy or too hard.

Updated Friday morning:

Stella Daily & Bruce Venzke's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle,"Hello Kitty"—Janie's review

I confess. That image at the left is the "Hello Kitty" I was secretly hoping for. Still, Stella and Bruce do a fine job giving us four phrases and one name whose first word can follow "kitty," thus producing a whole new phrase. And there's lots of fine non-theme as well to keep this puzzle lively. First things first:
  • 17A. Kitty + LITTERBUGS [Careless trash-tossers] → kitty litter. A good thing to have (in quantity...) if there's a kitty or a full-grown cat in the house.
  • 28A. Kitty + HAWK ONE'S WARES [Sell aggressively] → Kitty Hawk. This would be the site of the Wright brothers' first "controlled powered" airplane flights in 1903.
  • 47A. Kitty + CORNER GROCERY [Mom-and-pop business, often] → kitty-corner. Or cater-corner. Regardless, it means "in a diagonal position."
  • 64A. Kitty + CAT STEVENS [Singer now called Yusuf Islam] → kitty cat. This is the adorable creature that will necessitate the purchase of kitty litter (see 17A).
In the non-theme department, as promised, there are some real beauts, most notably those symmetrical tens: LOVERS' LANE [Place for makeout sessions] and WISECRACKS [Wit-filled words]. It seems to me that another [Place for makeout sessions] might be that divine DIVAN [Place to recline]. And although RED has been clued as [Visibly embarrassed], I was taken with the "D" it shares with DIVAN, and keep seeing the fill as RED DIVAN.

That DIVAN really is a multifunctional piece, too. For anyone who TIRES [Runs out of gas], what could be better? Hopefully SLEEP [Ambien user's goal] will come easily, but if not, well, "better living through chemistry" is a phrase that comes to mind...

Back to WISECRACKS. I usually think of these as being more flip than "wit-filled"—but sometimes flip remarks can also be witty. Someone who cracks wise or even [Delivers a sassy retort] is someone who ZINGS. Cyrano de Bergerac would be a classic example of someone who could deliver the wittiest of zingers. Some of these quotes may serve to illustrate.

On the topic of language, there's also [Colorful language, sometimes] for SLANG (e.g., that [Total bore]/SNOOZE combo)—preceded by its complementary clue [Colorful card game] for UNO and the reminder of its bright, primary(-ish) color-wheel playing cards. Then there's the tricky language we find in some of the cluing: [Plies the needle]? That's SEWS. [Creates a chair, perhaps]? ENDOWS. Clever. I think my favorite clues, though, are [Bride's handful] for NOSEGAY (anyone else first think IN-LAWS?) and the almost redundant sounding [Tiny time unit, for short] for NSEC. Don't ask why, I just find that one "cute."

Janie, NSEC isn't "cute"! It's insistently "meh," in fact.

Jack McInturff's Los Angeles Times crossword

The theme entries change second words that start with R- into CR- words. The first one I filled in was 27A: PUNK CROCK, or [Small-time hood's pottery?], where "punk rock" and "punk crock" sound quite similar, so I figured the others would also have first words ending with the "k" sound. 'Twas not to be. The others are 20A: MILITARY CRANK ([Grouch in the army?]—I prefer my grouches in trash cans on Sesame Street), 36A: HEAT CRASH ([Accident in a qualifying race?]), 47A: HEAD CREST ([Family insignia for designer Edith?]), and 54A: EXCHANGE CRATE ([Jalopy used as a trade-in?]). I love "jalopy."

An olio of other stuff:
  • 39D. [Refinery gases] are ETHENES, which crosses the EDER (64A: River near Kassel, Germany]). Both entries are entirely lacking in zip.
  • 12D. You can pluralize that? IRONIES are [Many O. Henry endings].
  • 4D. UNLINK is [Separate, as chain parts]. Would've been good to change that to a satellite UPLINK crossing A POP crossing MAG, though I do like 1D: MUG ([Morning container]).
  • 6D. Least appealing clue: [Congeal, as blood] for CLOT.

Gary Steinmehl's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Round Table"

Yay! The CHE puzzle bearing today's date is on the Chronicle's website today! (Link at top of post.) Get this: A themed Friday puzzle that made me think. With the New York Sun's disappearance a year ago and the easing up of the L.A. Times crossword, Steinmehl's puzzle was a welcome Friday-morning find.

The theme features people from the Algonquin Round Table—Dorothy PARKER, Robert BENCHLEY, Edna FERBER, and Robert SHERWOOD sit around the edges of the big circle of circled squares, which aptly spell out THE VICIOUS CIRCLE.

Tough fill abounds. HETAERA is a [Courtesan of ancient Greece]. HENAN is the [Chinese province that was the center of the Shang dynasty]. Poet James THOMSON is clued as ["Rule Brittania" lyricist James], but the title is flubbed in the clue—it's punctuated and spelled like this: Rule, Britannia! (That's the work, of course, composed by crosswordese composer ARNE.) Spanish missionary, old-time actress VERNA Bloom, [Sea-lily appendages] with the cloud name CIRRI—there's plenty of challenging fill and clues in this puzzle.

Randolph Ross's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Puzzle 5.O"

Each theme entry has five Os in it (and no other vowels, save Y), but some of them aren't "in the language" phrases that merit their appearance in a crossword grid. HOOK OR CROOK? Without the "by" before each noun, what is this? BOWL OF DOG FOOD? NOT FOOLPROOF? GO ON TOO LONG? I say "no, no, no, no, no" to those four. Much better are SHOOP SHOOP SONG, VOODOO DOLL, DOOR TO DOOR, and the BOOK OF MORMON. I'm torn on "BOY, OH BOY, OH BOY" and "BLOODY GOOD SHOW." The latter Googles up OK, but it makes me think of bloody show and mucus plugs.

The solving experience was further dampened by fill like REWEAR, SHOERS and a FLAYER, NO ONE'S, SNEERY, NON-PROS, and assorted abbreviations. I just didn't find the entertainment I was hoping for. Oh, well.

Updated Friday afternoon:

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Sorry, Wrong Number: Nope, not nouns"

Okay, I've gotta quit trying Brendan's easy puzzles with Down clues only. The combination of fill that isn't the same ol', same ol' and twisty clues means that holy cats, the puzzle is no fun with just the Downs. I ended up using some Acrosses to iron things out. If you don't know JA RULE's oeuvre and MCQ and STIED and WOWIE don't come readily to mind as possibilities, you're probably not going to be happy working off of half the clues.

Yesterday, Brendan gathered theme material via Twitter and Facebook crowdsourcing, asking people to think of verbs that look like violations of irregular plurals. E.g., loaves of bread vs. the verb loafs. But...the theme entries are clued as straightforward verb phrases, so the ties that bind the theme are largely absent from the puzzle itself. The puzzle's subtitle is "Nope, not nouns," but the theme clues have absolutely nothing to do with the nouns. So what we have here is a "huh, these words all share a halfway interesting trait, that they could double as incorrect plurals, except that they're used correctly as verbs so that's beside the point" theme.

Who is this [Feminist Russell] named DORA? Dora Black married Bertrand Russell. She supported birth control back in the 1920s, was polyamorous, and was a peace activist. Good to know.