October 23, 2009

Saturday, 10/24/09

Newsday 6:32
NYT 5:54
LAT 4:12
CS untimed

Paula Gamache's New York Times crossword

Last Sunday's NYT puzzle by Liz Gorski is my favorite 21x21 this month, and I think Paula's is the 15x15 I liked best. There's all sorts of awesomeness in this puzzle. The fill is zippy and the clues are the answers' equal. Here's what I'm talking about.

We've got people's names, often with the fancypants first/last name combo, and more women than usual:

• 15A. TINA TURNER is the kickass [Singer born Anna Mae Bullock].
• 17A. EDDIE MONEY, the ["Baby Hold On" hitmaker, 1978], was not as big on '80s MTV as TINA TURNER, but he was there.
• 30A. [Singer Aguilera, self-referentially] is XTINA, for Christina. If you don't know this name, you were probably casting a baleful glare at all of its crossings.
• 33A. James SPADER is ["The Practice" and "Boston Legal" Emmy winner].
• 48A. SHE-RA! [Her alter ego is Princess Adora]. I never partook of any She-Ra action, but it's the sort of fun pop culture I enjoy seeing in the crossword.
• 54A. ["Life of Pi" author ___ Martel] has the unusual name of YANN.
• 61A. The legendary PETE SEEGER is clued as the ["Turn! Turn! Turn!" songwriter]. Car horns should play that song when the person in front of you waiting to turn left is lollygagging.
• 49D. [Chrissie of the Pretenders] is the great Chrissie HYNDE:

Things that didn't exist 10 years ago:

• 1A. BLU-RAY DISC is a [High-definition storage medium].
• 23D. EARBUDS are [iPod attachments]. Not their first time in the crossword, but still about 85 times better than an answer like EARLAPS.
• 32A. Palm TREOS are [Alternatives to iPhones].

Other hot answers and clues:

• 18A. [Item of the past] is a couple who are now EXES. Singular clue! Tricky.
• 37A. BERSERK means [Wild].
• 42A. A boring old hunk of SOD? [It may thicken the plot] of land.
• 56A. "I'VE BEEN HAD" is a [Dupe's exclamation].
• 59A. The SELL-BY DATE is the [Time to pull a product] or, if you're an unscrupulous storekeeper, your cue to relabel the product.
• 3D. UNDIES! They're [Brief briefs?] in that the word's short for "underwear."
• 13D. A comedian's [Routine delivery] might be a ONE-LINER.
• 14D. To POSTMARK a letter is to [Prepare for delivery]. My cousin just had a baby yesterday so I was not reading these two clues right at all.
• 31D. Omigod! A TASS clue I don't recognize! [Soviet agency created from Rosta].
• 34D. The JOB CORPS is a great answer. It was a [Creation of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964].
• 35D. Dang, this clue led me down the wrong path completely. [Hangs up after agitating?] clues AIR-DRIES, as laundry that's been machine-washed.
• 44D. Anyone else try GAELIC for [Irish]? Or maybe CELTIC? It's DANDER, as in "get your Irish up."
• 47D. [Like new ones] refers to paper money: CRISP.
• 53D. [Lee side] isn't about ships and wind at all. It's the Robert E. Lee side, the REBS.

Updated Saturday morning:

Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"

The Stumpers are being edited and clued to a remarkably consistent difficulty level now, aren't they? Not as many much-harder outliers, and pretty much nothing that's surprisingly easy for a Stumper. Well done.

(PDF solution here.)

Doug once again demonstrates why he's my current favorite among the Newsday themeless makers. That LET IT ALL HANG OUT down the middle ([Hold nothing back]) crosses the similarly colloquial TO THE MAX ([Totally]). There's a BOOK DEAL ([Goal for some agents]), a BASEBALL DIAMOND ([Pirates' milieu]—not nautical or digital piracy but the Pittsburgh ball club), and a COSMONAUT with an etymology clue, [Literally, "universe sailor"].

You know that euphemism, "I gotta see a man about a horse"? SEE ABOUT ([Look into]) sits astride HOSS ([Mount, informally]).

Favorite clues:

• [Clinton or Obama] is a LAWYER.
• I don't know the order of presidents in the 19th century, nor do I know who the Tennessee Tailor was, but [Prez before the Tennessee Tailor], 3 letters? Gotta be ABE. The Internet tells me Andrew Johnson followed Lincoln.
• [Activity after a run], RES**CKING? All I could think of was a marathoner doing some re-snacking. And before I had those letters, I thought of Epsom salt baths, stretching, resting, and all sorts of things that weren't 10 letters long. RESTOCKING! After a run on a particular item at the store.
• The PANDA is an [Image on Chinese commemorative coins].

Thomas Heilman's Los Angeles Times crossword

From my L.A. Crossword Confidential post, some blogular material—

ZOMG! This is merely an easyish Saturday puzzle rather than a shockingly easy themeless. This one landed at Thursday NYT level for me—though I can't be sure, as I write this Friday evening, that the Negra Modelo didn't slow me down a tad. Though I generally find that a drink or two does not impair my crossword solving skills. In fact, I'm contemplating organizing an informal Tipsy Crossword Tournament at the next ACPT. Maybe in the hotel bar.

I haven't seen Thomas Heilman's byline in over a year, and I don't think he's done a ton of themelesses so I didn't know what to expect. The grid features triple-stacked 15s at the top and bottom. Like most triple stacks, these are mostly crossed by short answers—but there are also some kick-ass 8s and 11s intersecting them. Here are those answers:
  • 1A: Obsolete item (A THING OF THE PAST). This is a terrific crossword answer. Five words, completely natural language.
  • 16A: "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and others (CAUTIONARY TALES). I was thinking of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and tried to wedge HARRYPOTTERBOOKS in there. Nope! Needed to think of Mickey Mouse making Mephistophelean bargains for wizardly power.
  • 17A: Pet that's larger than a toy (MINIATURE POODLE). Have you seen the incredible ways Sandra Hartness decks out her poodle, Cindy? The picture gallery is here.
  • 60A: Tax service, familiarly (INTERNAL REVENUE). Can anyone tell me why I started out with NATIONAL here? That's not at all a phrase with the same currency as INTERNAL REVENUE.
  • 65A: It may be awakened after a period of inattention (RENEWED INTEREST). Ooh, I like this one.
  • 66A: Retail security staff (STORE DETECTIVES). There's a reason the store detective is not the subject of an entire genre of fiction and movies, isn't there? "Ooh, here's the gripping tale of a store detective who—snzzzxx."
  • 3D: Hid out, with "down" (HUNKERED). Gotta love hunkering down when the weather is terrible.
  • 10D: Some triangle sides (HYPOTENUSES). Do you think hippopotamuses could learn to recognize hypotenuses?
  • 23D: Half-baked (HARE-BRAINED). Hey, look, they both have h.-b. initials. I just asked my husband if he could think of anyone with those initials. He barked "Howard Barkin." Howard is, of course, neither hare-brained nor half-baked. Probably fully baked. And quite often faster than me on crosswords. Also Halle Berry. I don't know about her crossword skills. Rex, are you and Halle crossword pen pals?
  • 38D: Soviet leader who signed SALT I and II (BREZHNEV). Fun to say. Who doesn't love the ZH sound? Americans lose out. We use the sound but not the spelling. I'd like leisure much more if it were spelled "leizhure." Wouldn't you?
Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Growth Chart"—Janie's review

What a fitting conclusion this peppy puzzle is in a week that has given us puzzles titled "Baby Talk" and "Evolution of Man." Today's grid (a pangram at that) is a jukebox of song titles whose first or last word (there are two of each) describes a stage of human development. Fire up the speakers for:

• 20A. "BORN TO BE MY BABY" [1989 Bon Jovi #3 song]
• 28A. "LOVE CHILD" [1968 The Supremes #2 song]. I'd forgotten what an anthem for no-sex-without-contraception this song is. Though it doesn't say it in so many words. The pill was around in '68, but was not yet widely/easily available across all segments of the female population.
• 46A. "TEEN ANGEL" [1960 Mark Dinning #1 song]. One of the iconic pop music "story" songs of its day. And seriously gory, too. You don't wanna think too hard about the details.
• 53A. "ADULT EDUCATION" [1984 Hall & Oates #9 song]. From the underworld look of it, I keep thinking Orange's logo would be right at home in this video...

Two fave non-theme items still relate to the theme: STEM CELLS [Biological building blocks], which come into existence in the embryonic stage of development, and which are still with us as adults; and SPONGE BOB [Resident of kidvid's Bikini Bottom], whose target audience is the 2-11 year-old, but whose appeal spans the generations.

Then, there are a couple more song titles to mention. [CPR class site, often] tells us it's not clued as such, but YMCA would otherwise qualify; "STARDUST," [Hoagy Carmichael classic] is, however, and does. It also has the distinction of being on NPR's list of "The 100 Most Important American Musical Works of the 20th Century." That list, btw, includes music of a wide, wide variety of genres, including many that have been honored by the CMA [Gp. concerned with western tunes] (Country Music Association).

For the media- and stage-struck we have ["America's Got Talent segments] for ACTS and SKITS [Short sketches]. For those whose interests run more to sports, there's the ever-controversial (former) outfielder and designated hitter JOSÉ ["Juiced" author Canseco] and the Cincinnati REDS [Great American Ball Park team], who look to have one of the country's most picturesquely situated STADIUMS [Places with diamonds and gridirons].

I'm not a great fan of either of these two products, but I do like the progression (by the added letters) of the one to the other in the grid—and I'm referring to [Starchy tropical plant] TARO and TAR OIL [Coal product]. Finally, while Algeria is a member of the Arab League (and not the [United] ARAB [Emirate]), the CASBAH is an [Algiers section].