October 04, 2009

Monday, 10/5/09

BEQ 5:27
NYT 2:44
LAT 2:24
CS untimed

Plus, new crossword links!

This afternoon I had a chance to try out puzzles from a few new online sources. You can find links in the sidebar ("Crossword Links") henceforth.

First up, Matt Gaffney's weekly 21x21 puzzle at the Daily Beast. I did this weekend's "Octoberfest" in 8:00, so it's right there in Sunday NYT difficulty land and meets the Gaffney standard of excellence. (No spoilers—don't want to get in the way of your fun, folks!) I appreciate that Matt was able to add an Across Lite download, too.

T Campbell is publishing a crossword every weekday at Ubercross, with PDF and Java applet options. The fill tends towards the Onion/BEQesque or beyond. In the "Heroic Origins" puzzle, for instance, the late DJ AM is an answer, and the answer to ["Tough ___"] is TITTY. If that doesn't scare you off, check it out. For me, "Heroic Origins" took 5:20, so it's at a Thursday/Friday NYT level of difficulty. The constructor reports "Next week's puzzles will celebrate seven-letter words, a certain punctuation mark, an astronomical discovery, a set of upcoming TV nuptials, and a city with a lot to celebrate."

Teen constructor Caleb Madison is making a monthly online crossword for his school newspaper, the Bard Bulletin. The first two are posted already, and they're not school-specific so anyone can solve them.

Mark Feldman's New York Times crossword

The theme is a tad outdated. RIGHT ON THE MONEY is [Exactly...or where to find 17-, 25-, 43- and 57-Across?]. The other theme entries are the names of the men shown on large denominations of U.S. currency. These bills haven't been printed in years but, lending currency (!) to the theme, Wikipedia tells us "as of May 30, 2009, there were only 336 of the $10,000 bills in circulation; 342 remaining $5,000 bills; and 165,372 $1,000 bills still being used." Where's mine??

WILLIAM MCKINLEY is on the 17A: [$500], JAMES MADISON on the 25A: [$5,000], my beloved SALMON P. CHASE on the 43A: [$10,000], and GROVER CLEVELAND on the 57A: [$1,000].

I've got one quibble about a clue/fill duplication: SNORE is clued as 49D: [Cause unrest?], while NO REST is 45D [What the weary get, it's said]. In the crosswordese category, we're shooting 1D: [Fancy marbles] with our TAWS. Do those of you who sail use UNRIG, or is that more of a ship word? The clue is 48D: [Strip, as a ship]. Then there's the variant spelling of 4D: [Ice house: Var.], or UGLI. I mean, IGLU. Igloo comes from the Inuit word iglu, so if English had any sense at all, IGLU would be the standard spelling and igloo would be the goofy-looking variant.

Things I like: 5D: [Stocky] clues THICK-SET, which amuses me because one of my Facebook acquaintances was described thus in writing (and he's not thick-set). 14A: [Cry of exasperation] is AARGH, which is in fact the dictionary-approved spelling of the exclamation. And who doesn't love the MACARENA, that 38D: [Dance craze of the '90s]? Here's the video you may remember. You know what's wrong with that video? Zero hot men. A bunch of women in spandex and two men in baggy dark suits? Feh.

If you find the usual batch of easy Monday puzzles aren't keeping you occupied, try out the puzzle sites linked above, and remember that Brendan Quigley's blog usually has "Themeless Monday."

Updated Monday morning:

Bob Klahn's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Vowel Play"—Janie's review

No foul play in this "Vowel Play," but a healthy amount wordplay, in both the theme fill (and clues) and in the non-theme fill (and clues). Bob gives us five theme-entries, each of which begins "B*G"—with that asterisk standing in for A, E, I, O or U. Not only does he cycle through these vowels in sequence, but he's gone beyond the initial three-letters to make certain they appear in words of five letters and longer. "WHEE!" ["This ride is a joy!"] and gives us:

  • 17A. BAGEL SHOP [It stocks lox]. Love this clue for the rhyme and for the way its sound calls to mind the phrase (utterly unrelated in meaning) lock, stock and barrel.
  • 26A. BEGINNER'S LUCK [Rookie's fortune]. This is something Fred Astaire had with Ginger Rogers in Shall We Dance. Thank you, George and Ira.
  • 36A. BIGOTRY [Bunker mentality?]. That's "Bunker" as in Archie. As in All in the Family. As in great clue/fill combo, too.
  • 46A. BOGGLE THE MIND [Absolutely amaze]. Not BOGGLET HE MIND (which is the way I keep seeing it in the grid...).
  • 61A. BUGLE CALL [Base notes]. As opposed to bass notes—and another fine pair.
There are several wittily crafted, sequential clue pairs that are worthy of attention. I point them out because they demonstrate what can be done to enliven the solving experience. The fill itself isn't the most sparkling. But the presentation sure is and that (as I've no doubt said before...) goes a long way in my book. See for yourself:
  • [Tie the knot] and ["Not on the tie!" elicitor] for UNITE and SPOT;
  • [Send packing] and [Packing a lot of extra baggage, so to speak] for CAN and OBESE;
  • ["This ride is a joy!"] and [Joy ride] for "WHEE!" and SPIN;
  • [Help for the hapless] and [Bubble bath balm] for ALMS and ALOE (I know—the only alliterative pair in examples of repeated words...);
  • ["I, Claudius" network] and [I, to Claudius] for BBC and EGO.
Then there are the clues and fill that give us neat nuggets of information, like the fact that GRAHAM was the first name of [Whole-wheat cracker creator Sylvester]. Did you know that? News to me. Ditto the E-BOAT, a [WWII German torpedo craft]. Nor did I know anything about the BEE and its being the [Waggle dance performer]. (I wonder if Fred and Ginger ever tried to emulate nature on the dance floor like that...) And it's been some time indeed since I gave any thought to GUMMO, [The fifth Marx brother]—but at least I'd heard of him! Real name, Milton.

Two nice misdirects come to us via [Like lots of unplanned-for plants] for WEEDY, where "lots" may be substituted with "acres" (for example) but not with "tons" (because then the correct fill, referring to "plants," would have to be WEEDS); and [Refrain from singing about farm animals?] for "E-I-E-I-O!" where "refrain" is a noun and not a verb.

"ONE TO GO!"/["Nearly done!"] ties in nicely with "HANG ON..."/["Wait a minute..."]; and simply adding to the beauty of the [Eclectic mix] OLIO that is today's non-theme fill, here's a shout-out, too, to EGGHEAD [Walking encyclopedia] and LION CUB [Diminutive den denizen]. Awww.

Billie Truitt's Los Angeles Times crossword

A simple theme, easy clues, accessible fill—exactly what you expect on a Monday. The theme entries are all "S__ AND S__" phrases: SUGAR AND SPICE, [What little girls are made of, so it's said]; SAFE AND SOUND, [Out of harm's way]; SOUP AND SALAD, a [Light lunch]; and SHORT AND SWEET, [Pleasantly concise].

37-Down is annoying: [Phone caller's "Bet you don't recognize my voice!"] is GUESS WHO. It's not that the clue or answer is annoying—it's that anyone who calls you and makes you guess who they are is a real PAIN (["Royal" nuisance].

Is this write-up "pleasantly concise"? I hope so.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Themeless Monday"

I can't believe I still couldn't pin down 44A: [2001 John Goodman/Billy Crystal film] even when I had MONSTER in place. MONSTERS, INC.! Of course. Used to watch that a lot with my kid, and yet I could only think of Monsters Ball, Coen brothers movies, and Throw Momma From the Train.

What else?
  • Among the zippiest entries are some blasts from the '70s: CAGED HEAT is a [1974 women-in-prison exploitation flick] and THE RUTLES were a [Fictional band who sang "Can't Buy Me Lunch" and "All You Need Is Cash"].
  • The two vertical 15s are names from history, and now my eyeball is changing 12D into "Marty Odd Lincoln."
  • Favorite clue: [It can make a man out of you] for a SEX CHANGE.
  • I'm making a note of the fresh INEZ clue: [Consumer Product Safety Commission director Tenenbaum]. We might be seeing her in some more puzzles.
  • I'm still not quite sure I see how STRESSFUL and [Aging, perhaps] match up. "This job is stressful." "This job is aging." "The whole experience was ___."
  • I don't know where [Tax collectors] are called EXACTORS.
  • Anyone recommend Public Enemies? I want to see it because so much of the movie was filmed in my part of town. And no, I didn't see Johnny DEPP, though I did pass by various location shoots three times.
  • Back in the late '90s, I used QUARKXPRESS to lay out a journal and a newsletter. I can't say I really miss it.