October 14, 2009

Thursday, 10/15/09

NYT 3:47
LAT 3:25
Tausig untimed
CS untimed

Vic Fleming's New York Times crossword

It looks like a Thursday puzzle—word count of 74, so more white space and longish answers than we expect earlier in the week. But the clues felt a little easy for a Thursday. The theme is straightforwardly HAWAII (43D), and we are spared POI, a UKE, a LEI, and DON HO. Instead, we get assorted Hawaii trivia:

• 17A. BETTE MIDLER is the [Entertainer born 12/1/1945 in 25-Across]. I don't believe it. I'm going to need to see her birth certificate.
• 25A. That's HONOLULU, the [Capital whose name means "sheltered bay"], where Midler was born.
• 34A, 36A. IOLANI / PALACE is the [only official residence of a reigning monarch now in the United States].
• 44A. Geotrivia! [Measured base to peak, the world's tallest mountain] is MAUNA KEA. That base is beneath about 20,000 feet of Pacific Ocean waters.
• 54A. BARACK OBAMA is a noted [Politician born 8/4/61 in 25-Across].

I wonder if Vic hoped for this puzzle to run around August 21, the 50th anniversary of Hawaii's statehood. There doesn't seem to be any particular rhyme or reason for running this theme now, but two months ago? Perfect.

Highlights in the fill: [Seven-time Wimbledon champ] PETE / SAMPRAS gets his full name in the grid too, but split into two entries. CHERUBIC is just a cute word ([Innocent-looking]). The [German warning] ACHTUNG is part of a U2 album title, Achtung Baby. IOWA CITY is clued via [it's west of Davenport]; it's further west from Chicago. DEAR ANN is the [Start of a letter to Landers]; "Dear Abby" feels a little more in the language to me, but that could be because I just saw that phrase in another crossword.

The short stuff in the grid is mostly unremarkable. I wonder how many people wind up Googling the Roman numeral clues—XLI, or 41, is the [Year Caligula was assassinated].

Updated Thursday morning:

Tony Orbach's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Take the El Train"—Janie's review

Yet another CS puzzle that's SOLID [Like a rock]. Today's theme involves a sequence (or train) of words (the first one in each of four theme phrases) from which the letter L has been taken out—the double L, to be precise. It took me a while to figure out the gimmick, but I was delighted to have a second puzzle in the same week with a "take away" theme, especially one that builds on its predecessor by removing a letter pair. What the 'ell—let's take a look at the theme fill!

• 17A. MA OF AMERICA [Founding mother?] has its source in Bloomington MN's super-sized (4 million square feet!) Mall of America. O. M. G.
• 33A. CEO CONCERTO [Corporate bigwig's musical composition?]. The base phrase here, of course, is cello concerto. This was the theme fill that triggered the "aha" for me and remains my fave. There's something very natural about the before-and-after feel to it. This link'll get you started with Jacqueline du Pré's performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto.
• 42A. PI DISPENSER [Geometry teacher divulging the secret of a circle?]. Never knew you could do so much with a pill dispenser!
• 57A. SEERS MARKET [Crystal ball store?]. Another really strong entry. As with cello..., the letters to be removed are contained by (and don't lie at the end of) the base word. I think this adds to the delight of realizing the base phrase is seller's market.

I'm pretty much HOG WILD [Enthusiastic to the extreme] for this puzzle. Why? Because the fill is all-over DYNAMIC [Full of life]. From the [Crazy] crossing of LOCO with LOONY [Bats], to the beautiful 10-letter BANANARAMA [Girl group with the 1986 hit "Venus"], there's a fresh feel to the fill. And a clue like [Lusty deity] gives us an attitude about SATYR. Attitude is good in this case.

It comes across as well in all the colloquial/conversational fill:

• ["I'm] ONTO [you!"]
• "MOI?" ["Who, me?"]
• "DITTO" ["Same here"]
• "IN A FEW" ["Any sec"]
• ["Don't] ASK [!"]
• "I BET!" ["Yeah, right!"]

We get a [Toy on a string] not-once-but-twice, with YO-YO and KITE. A [Stand-up's zinger] is a ONE-LINER; but [Puts in stitches] is SEWS. And I also like the way the [La Brea product], TAR is followed in the grid by TARP [Grounds crew's cover]. It's the little things... (And speaking of "little things," let me not overlook FLEA precisely portrayed as a [Minuscule circus creature].)

Finally, a word of warning: if the SCREW CAP [Feature of many wine bottles] on your wine bottle has begun to OXIDATE [Rust], it's probably time to chuck it. It may not have been sold before its time, but its time has come...

Todd Gross's Los Angeles Times crossword

As it happens, the very last answer I filled in—hadn't even seen the clue until the end—is 48D, which ties everything together. [A type of one begins the answers to starred clues] points towards a WRENCH, and I didn't have a clue that's where the theme was heading. What the heck is a CRESCENT (ROLLS) wrench? Time to Google—oh, it's the adjustable wrench I've always had in my toolbox, but I've never heard it called a crescent wrench. The other WRENCHes include PIPE (DREAM), MONKEY (BARS), and ALLEN (GINSBERG). Provided you know the wrench varieties, it's a good theme.

I'm feeling a little bloated and queasy thanks to the northeast corner—SWOLLEN ([Puffed up, as a sprain]) beside NAUSEATE ([Make queasy]) makes this the Misery Corner. Also in that corner is DO SO, clued as ["Take care of it"], but I can't say I've ever heard anyone issue that short command. Next to that is INCL. with an ugly clue, ["Batt. not ___"]—but it Googles up OK. Valid, but ugly.

Highlights in the fill include several phrases and compound words—OPEN MIND, SKYLINE, RED TAPE—as well as MANDARIN, the [Official spoken language of China], and a CARNIVAL, or [Traveling show]. When the answer to ["Way to go!"] starts with an H and is 6 letters long, I'm never quite sure whether I need HOORAY (my preferred spelling and pronunciation), HURRAH (also decent), or HURRAY. Hooray for HOORAY today! I suspect some of the nation's solvers will be Googling [Variously colored flower] today. It's a PANSY here, but...there are a zillion plants with variously colored flowers. Roses. Mums. Tulips. Crabapple blossoms (my favorite scent). Irises. Violets. Lilies. Daisies. See what I mean? And many of those also come in two-tone blooms, like pansies.

Am I just slow this morning, or is this puzzle actually landing square in the Wednesday difficulty slot rather than the Monday/Tuesday of recent weeks? Judging from the other times on the leaderboard this morning, I'm just slow this morning.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Pop Filter"

Do you know what a pop filter is? It's placed between a microphone and a person to dampen the popping sound from aspirated plosives when people say "P" words. So the "Pop Filter" in this puzzle takes out the P sound in the theme entries' base phrases:

• 17A. Movable Type is a blogging platform and movable type is what Gutenberg used with his printing press. MOVABLE TIE is [Unfixed neckwear?]. Hmm, a delivery food order might be movable Thai.
• 25A. [Where Satan's secretary sits?] is HELL DESK (help desk).
• 39A. Presumably there's a Clash album called Give 'Em Enough Rope. GIVE 'EM ENOUGH ROE is the [Clash album about being a generous sushi chef?]. Ideally, the clue wouldn't reference both the base phrase and the theme entry, but Give 'Em Enough Rope is perhaps not familiar enough to serve as un unexplained basis for a play on words.
• 51A. Hope chest turns into HOE CHEST, [Where weed-removing heirlooms might be kept?]. The "heirloom" aspect of the clue again references the base phrase. I should've noticed that when test-solving this puzzle.
• 64A. [What a really exciting yoga instructor provides?] might be CHI THRILLS (cheap thrills). Cute.

I liked the medical terminology crossing just fine, but could see how that might stymie some folks. ATAXIA is [Lack of coordination, clinically] and EXOCRINE is clued as [Like sweat glands]; endocrine glands do their secreting inside the body (endo = in, exo = out). [Trippy M.C.] isn't about trip-hop at all; it's trippy visual artist M.C. ESCHER. The NEVA River, one of the leading crosswordese rivers in Russia, gets a trivia clue, [River into which Rasputin was thrown], to bring it to life. Ben editorials abou American IDOL: [Show that's broken scores of generic, melismatic singers, familiarly]. ZIT is clued via teenagerly texting: ["ZOMG! n RIGHT b4 prom!!!" thing].