October 27, 2009

Wednesday, 10/28/09

Onion 4:12
BEQ 3:52
NYT 3:50
LAT 3:05
CS 2:50 (A), untimed (J)

Mike Torch's New York Times crossword

I don't know about you, but it felt like it took me forever to find the theme while solving this puppy. I had the KNIGHT at the end of 38A (LADY OF THE KNIGHT, or [Guinevere, to Lancelot]), and Lancelot being a knight, I suspected no wordplay at that end. And in the upper left corner, I wasn't thinking that [What a king may win] is a TRICK (in what card game? war? bridge?), so I was missing the essential K in KNEW TESTAMENT, or 21A: [Was well-versed in a will?]. Oy! The rest of the theme plays out like this:

• 15A. [Retired Big Apple basketball player?] is an OLD KNICK. NYC-centric answer, NYC newspaper. Playing on Old Nick, which is the Devil's nickname but sounds like Santa's. I wasn't expecting any 8-letter theme entries.
• 48A. KNOT FOR PROFIT is a [Macrame company's goal?]. If you're over the age of 40, the odds are pretty good that you tried your hand at macramé in the '70s. Gotta love wall hangings.
• 64A. To [Select a sweater?] is to KNIT-PICK. Make mine cashmere, please.

There are some suboptimal answers in the fill, like ILLER, GOR on a Wednesday ([Brit's oath]), plural ROTCS, and assorted TLAs (three-letter abbreviations). But I'll give props to CTA, the [Windy City transportation org.], as infinitely superior to NYC's MTA. Not because of service—just because I'm a Chicagoan with a CTA card in my wallet. Other answers/clues I liked:

• PITCHY is [Slightly sharp or flat, as a voice]. Most Americans associate this word with Randy Jackson of American Idol. "I wasn't feelin' it, dawg. It was pitchy."
• 7A is CICADAS clued as [Insects in swarms]. Oh god! No swarms! Please. A single cicada is plenty loud. A swarm sounds deadly in its volume.
• [Theme song from "American Gigolo"] is Blondie's "CALL ME." I know you want to hear that song now: here's the video.
• 1D is PISA, and dang, yet another clue that keeps me wondering. I need to start suspecting PISA for any Italian 4-letter place name. [Torre Pendente city]...torre = tower, and pendente = ...leaning? Pendants don't lean. Is the Leaning Tower's Italian name "Hanging Tower"?
• [List preceder] is a COLON in that you can use a colon like this: for explanations, for lists, for whatever.
• I do like "NO, WAIT!"—"Uh, hold on! That's wrong!"
• SEPT, French for "seven," is the [Number of dwarfs with Blanche Neige], or Snow White.

Constructors, please do not make a puzzle in which a theme entry is OSMIC JOKE, cosmic joke with a C lopped off. That would be no good. OSMIC means [Of element #76], or relating to osmium.

Updated Wednesday morning:

Barry Silk's Los Angeles Times crossword

From my L.A. Crossword Confidential post—I didn't grasp the theme after I had the first two theme entries, but once GRANNY reared her head, I knew the puzzle had a knack for knots.

Theme answers:

• 17A: [Life insurance clause] (DOUBLE INDEMNITY). Is a double knot an official sailing/scouting/knot-tying sort of knot? Wait, it's the shoelace double bow I'm thinking of. Yes! There is probably a double knot. As for Double Indemnity, I've never seen the movie.
• 25A: [Hoedown activity] (SQUARE DANCE). The square knot is, the dictionary tells me, a particular kind of double knot. But "double knot" is not an entry in that dictionary. You know what you might find at a hoedown or SQUARE DANCE? Bales of hay for decoration. PuzzleGirl knows a woman from her school committee who knows where to go to find hay bales, but she's not gonna do it. There was a memo to that effect. As Joan Crawford is to wire hangers, that committee member is to hay bales.
• 43A: [Apple variety] (GRANNY SMITH). I used to love those apples but then I remembered that sweet is better than sour. A granny knot is a square knot that's gone awry so the rope may slip.
• 54A: [Inadvertent remark] (SLIP OF THE TONGUE). The slip knot can be undone by pulling on it. Don't use this to tie up your horse or your boat or your child, or you may lose them.
• 62D: [17-, 25-, 43- and 54-Across begin with a kind of one] (KNOT). Exactly where we like to find the Grand Unifying Answer, in the slot for the very last Across answer.

Making this puzzle a pangram are assorted Scrabbly words: XENO brings the X, and then there's QUARK, RITZY, and ST. JOE rounding up the Q, X, J, and K.

Byron Walden's Onion A.V. Club crossword

Byron pays tribute to the late WILLIAM SAFIRE, the [Former "On Language" New York Times columnist who died on 9/27/09], with a quote theme. The [summary by 42-Across of the thrust of an anti-nudity law in a Supreme Court case] is "IT AIN'T THE TEAT, / IT'S THE TUMIDITY."Excellent T-for-H swap pun, no? With only three theme entries in a svelte 14x15 grid, there's room for tons of interesting fill, and Byron's always been one of my favorite cluers. So let's peek at my top 10:

• 30A. [Wax location] isn't a waxing salon, car wash, or record store, but your EAR CANAL.
• 37A. If you MOON OVER someone, you [Regard (them) with goofy affection]
• 1D. AYDS was the [Weight-loss candy of the '70s and '80s that couldn't overcome its unfortunate homophone].
• 5D. I think Byron might've used this clue before, or borrowed it from someone. [They'll bring out the kid in you] clues OB-GYNS.
• Really? 8D: "DO NO HARM" is an [Exhortation that, in fact, is not in the Hippocratic Oath].
• 23D. It took a while to parse the clue right. THE TEAM is [Whom one is taken for?]. As in "take one for the team."
• 32D. [Contra position?] is NICARAGUA. Remember the '80s, Contras vs. Sandinistas, Reagan's Iran-Contra scandal?
• 33D. [As prompted, on voicemail] is AT THE BEEP. I think this phrase is fully "in the language" now, no?
• 45D. Apparently this show's run has ended, and I never watched it. But I like the unusual "Wait, what starts with an LW? That can't be right" L-WORD. [With "The," TV series whose relationships were mapped by "The Chart"].
• The last item on my list is TEA URNS. No, it isn't. Always like to see a full name in the grid. EVE ARDEN is the 36D: [Principal McGee portrayer in "Grease"]. That doesn't ring a bell for me.

So, just how many longish answers does this 65-word, 30-block puzzle have? Four 6s, two 7s, four 8s, and a half dozen 9s. My, that is a lot. Nice job capitalizing on the possibilities presented by a small theme, Byron.

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy/Washington Post crossword, "He's No Gentleman"

Paula's theme is tied together by the heartless CAD at 57D. C.A.D. are the initials of each theme answer:

• 18A. CUT AND DRIED means [According to formula].
• 29A. CLOAK AND DAGGER is clued as [Like undercover operations].
• 46A. "CEASE AND DESIST" is a [Judge's order to halt]. The judges and lawyers doing this puzzle probably considered 4D: [Confiscate, legally] to be a gimme, but ESCHEAT is not in my daily parlance.
• 57A. CHIPS AND DIP are [Informal party fare]. No-salt Jays potato chips, French onion dip—they're in my kitchen right now.

I wanted the 44D: [Pitiful person] to be a CRYBABY, thanks to the B in the fourth slot, but it's a NEBBISH. That's one of 24 6- and 7-letter answers in the fill today. Another is REINS IN, or 41D: [Restrains]. This one activated the cryptic crossword corner of my brain—see the backwards ARTS inside REINS in [Restrains]?

Thank you, Orange, and please excuse Jane's lateness, one and all, as (later, still, Wednesday morning) she finally posts:

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "He's No Gentleman"—Janie's review

57A. tells the tale. It asks for the three-letter word that describes the [Non-gentleman formed by the initial letters of each word within 18-, 29-, 46-, and 57-Across]. That word is CAD and all I can say is I wanna know what's goin' on over there in CS-land. Ten days ago in Nancy Salomon's "Missing the Point," we encountered cad laughter and unrepentant sirs. Today, Paula seems to build on the concept, using four peppy phrases that spell out (initially):

• 18A. CUT AND DRIED [According to formula].
• 29A. CLOAK AND DAGGER [Like undercover operations].
• 46A. CEASE AND DESIST [Judge's order to halt].
• 57A. CHIPS AND DIP [Informal party fare].

And not only that, but she's given us some bonus fill as well, with BAGMEN [Mob collectors] (probably not the nicest guys in the world...) and SLAP [Stinging response to an insult] (that may have been delivered by a cad...). Paula (and Nancy): Helen Reddy sang it and this one's for you!

There's colorful fill indeed today as represented by BLUE SKY [Impractical, as ideas] (this phrase was entirely new to me and I like it a lot), RED MEAT [Carnivore's fodder], and even TARTANS [Highland plaids]. See what I mean? Oh, yes—and [Fourth rock from the sun] MARS, too, since it's also known as "the red planet"...

As exemplified by NEBBISH, even the opposite of colorful is colorful. By definition a nebbish is a [Pitiful person] (also an insignificant one; a nonentity). In the '50s, "The Nebbishes" was a cartoon craze/fad created by artist-turned-playwright (A Thousand Clowns) Herb Gardner. This article/obit is also a superb backgrounder on the man who made the words "next week we'll just have to get organized" a household phrase for a while.

In the "things-aren't-always-what-they-seem" department: the [Opposite of WSW], of course, is ENE. NSW, however, does not stand for North-South-West, but for New South Wales [Sydney's state (abbr.)]. In Australia. ASHY is defined nicely with [Like a fireplace grate]; but a [Burning sensation?] refers to IRE, not fire... That [Grumpy colleague?] isn't CRANKY, but the only one of Snow White's dwarfs with a one-syllable, three-letter name: DOC. The crossing at 1D and 1A of JONAH and JOB is not a biblical pairing. The former (with a long "O") does refer to [One with a whale tale?], but the latter (with a short "O") is the [Object of a graduate's quest].

50¢ word of the day: ESCHEAT [Confiscate legally]. I'm willing to bet I'll never remember this...

And with Halloween right around the corner, let's hear it for the DEMONS [Little devils] and the cluing of CROSSES as [Vampire repellents]!

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Cheat Sheet"

I like the theme but much of the fill left me cold. The theme takes words that start with CH and changes 'em to SH-sound words:

• Chief of staff becomes SHEAF OF STAFF, or [Employee's wheat bundle?]. That's just a weird phrase. Do you ever have "meeting of staff"?
• Beach chair turns into BEACH SHARE, a [Co-owned house on sand?].
• [Bit of magic from Dolly?] the cloned sheep (not Dolly the Parton) is a SHEEP TRICK (cheap trick).
• The best of the bunch is RIGHT TO SHOES, playing on the right to choose. It's a [Privilege wanted by all fashionistas?].

While I do like YOUTUBE, Larry CSONKA's crazy spelling, JOSTLE, and "...THE HELL?", I was distracted by RANEE, SAME AS (6-letter partial?), ETNAS and an OAST, and EEE. Favorite clue: [Brendan Emmitt Quigley, e.g.] is the football-inflected TYPO Peter King had in his Sports Illustrated column.