November 18, 2009

Thursday, 11/19/09

NYT 3:40
LAT 3:17
CS untimed
Tausig untimed

Tyler Hinman and Jeremy Horwitz's New York Times crossword

Here's how I envision this puzzle's development:

Tyler: "Let's make a themeless together."
Jeremy: "No, I want to do a themed puzzle. Something with trivia."
Great cacophony ensues as the chocolate hits the peanut butter, cruciverbally speaking.
Tyler: "Hey, you got a theme in my themeless!"
Jeremy: "What are you talking about? You got your themeless all over my themed puzzle!"
Light bulbs appear over both men's heads.
Together: "Omigod! We made a 70-word themeless puzzle packed with juicy fill and managed to fit three theme entries into it."

I know today's constructors are on the same pub trivia team, so I wonder if A SEED for this puzzle came about from a trivia quiz or if they hit on the trivia trio themselves. It's light as themes go—just 31 squares. But it's thematically solid, bringing together three directors of movies with one-letter titles:

• 17A. ["Z" director, 1969] is known as COSTA-GAVRAS.
• 32A. ["M" director, 1931] is FRITZ LANG.
• 51A. ["W" director, 2008] is OLIVER STONE.

I greatly enjoyed solving this puzzle, though usually I would grumble about a 70-worder that's clued easy enough to hit a Wednesday/Thursday level of difficulty. But I kept getting surprised by answers that were cool, and that was fun.

On the down side, the three UPs distracted me because (a) I hesitated to enter the second and third ones and (b) one of them felt iffy. That one is 8D: [Encircle with a belt] for GIRD UP. I see it in the dictionary entry for gird in the example "gird (up) one's loins," but I don't think that sort of "girding up" involves a belt. If you're belting your loins, I don't wanna hear about it. I wanted UPSIZE to be RESIZE (42D: [Enlarge]) because of 8D, and then UP TO PAR (35D: [Adequate for the job]) showed up and made me wish the other UPs had left this one alone.

Favorite clues and answers:

• 6A. [Symbol in a Riemann sum] is SIGMA. All I know is that SIGMA is used in math for sums of some sort. The clue looked a lot scarier than it turned out to be.
• 16A. MOO [___ juice (milk)]!
• 20A. Scrabbly KLEENEX, a [Kimberly-Clark brand]. KOTEX was too short. (HUGGIES and PULL-UPS would fit, though.)
• 26A. Slangy WHUP means to [Tan] someone's hide, figuratively.
• 31A. "WANT TO?" means ["Are you game?"].
• 34A. Scrabbly JUAREZ is an [El Paso neighbor]. (Hi, Monica!)
• 41A. [Cause of an awakening] sounds metaphysical, but it's the APNEA that might disrupt your sleep.
• 44A. STAR MAPS are [Some Beverly Hills tourist purchases]. There was a recent NYT story about a teenager who's gone into business selling Hamptons star maps.
• 50A. Didn't see this clue while solving: [Google had one in 2004: Abbr.] clues IPO. Tyler, your employer really doesn't need the extra publicity.
• 1D. I hope someone somewhere complains that clueing LUCKIER as [More Irish?] is derogatory to the Irish. And then I hope they're mocked.
• 3D. What is it about the word NOSEGAY that I find so charming? It's a small bouquet or [Posy].
• Anyone think that 6D and 7D would be my entrée into the grid? STAX and rap impresario IRV Gotti, you don't scare me.
• 10D. Oddest clue in the puzzle: [Hearers of Jonah's prophecy] are ASSYRIANS. This may be Biblical, but ASSYRIANS is not short enough to find its way into the puzzle often so it's not Biblical crosswordese.
• 13D. I read a little IONESCO in college—["Le Rhinoceros" playwright Eugene]. I read it in an English translation.
• 18D, 24D. More Scrabbleocity: GEE WHIZ and QUIZNO'S.
• 30D. CREAM SODA is an [A&W beverage] and my favorite Dum-Dum flavor.
• 36D. I like the pairing of [Cousins] and ANALOGS. As in "this is analogous to that/these things are cousins."
• 38D. A WASHOUT is a [Complete failure].

I hereby give my blessing to the cruciverbal union of these two constructors. Jeremy and Tyler, do you have more joint productions in the pipeline?

Updated Thursday morning:

Gail Grabowski's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Case Study"—Janie's review

We know this theme very well: the last word of the theme fill is one that combines with a word in the title. Today that word is "case." The good news is that the theme fill is fresh and the re-configured phrases are pretty lively, too. Today's offerings are:

• 17A. [Wimbledon feature] GRASS COURT → court case.
• 11D. [Delete, for one] COMPUTER KEY → key case.
• 25D. [Healthy all-occasion gift] FRUIT BASKET → basket case (someone who's mentally not-so-healthy. This pair is my fave).
• 63A. [It's said there's no cure for it] COMMON COLD → cold case (followed closely by this pair).

And there's some lively cluing and fill throughout that give this puzzle its [Pizazz] ELAN. I'm fond of the SW corner—the children's corner?—with "BE NICE" ["Don't fight, please"] right next to "ARE NOT!" [Childish denial]. Other exclamations are ["]MAMMA [mia!"] and "TADA!" [Cry of accomplishment]; and one that summons up a variation of "the actor's nightmare": "I'M ON!" for ["That's my cue!"].

Then there's:

• [Smart set] for MENSA;
• [It can cover a lot] for TAR (anyone else start with SOD—and thinking of that "lot" as something more exclusively along the lines of ONE ACRE [4,840 square yards]?);
• [Lasting impression] for SCAR;
• [Pay what's due] for PONY UP (love this expression, even with its apparently unknown etymology);
• [Sketcher's eraser] for ART GUM (because when was the last time I owned one or even thought about art gum?!);
• and in the "good, clean fun" department, [Washer batch] LOAD and COIN-OP [Like some laudromats].

Jack McInturff's Los Angeles Times crossword

Jack McInturff mentioned me in his Crossword Corner interview today:

"Orange" the puzzle commentator, once said of a puzzle I did "The fill seems old school." It's probably because I'm 79 years old and that's what I remember. It did give me a wake-up call, however, and I'm trying to be more current.

See? That's why crossword bloggers write about crosswords: We want crosswords to be as good and as entertaining as possible, so it's gratifying when we see evidence that a puzzle-maker or editor uses our critiques in a constructive manner to give solvers a better experience.

Today's L.A. Times theme involves phrases that end with sort of synonymous words, JERK, GOOSE, YO-YO, and DOPE. A thesaurus tells me JERK is a synonym for "fool," but I don't use it that way. I guess some people say "I felt like a complete jerk" to mean "doofus" rather than "heel," though. The theme:

• 20A. CLEAN AND JERK is a [Weightlifting event].
• 30A. The CANADA GOOSE (not "Canadian goose") is a [Golf course pest]. Last spring, I saw a goose perched atop a three-story building. Is that not bizarre? The very same week, my mother saw a rooftop goose for the first time in her life. Heads up, people: The geese have plans. Watch your back.
• 39A. A [Spinning toy manipulated with sticks] is a CHINESE YO-YO.
• 49A. The STRAIGHT DOPE is [Honest info]. You know Cecil Adams' "Straight Dope" column in alt-weekly papers? A couple times I have seen a lexicographer citing Cecil's answers. I think that means his research standards are considered good.

The #1 clue people will be Googling today is 32D: [British actor Robert, the original Colonel Pickering in "My Fair Lady"]. Robert COOTE? That doesn't ring a bell for me.

#2 is 5D: [Original primer used to paint the Golden Gate Bridge], or RED LEAD. No idea what RED LEAD is. Dictionary tells me it's a red form of lead oxide used in paint.

Favorite clues:

• The twin old Ford clues. [Early Ford success] is the MODEL A, while EDSEL was an [Ill-fated Ford].
• [Actors, often] are EMOTERS. Note that the clue does not say "overactors."
• [Some heroes] are called HOAGIES. Yes, I was thinking heroically rather than sandwichly.
• [Very big wind], 4 letters. The obvious choice is between GUST and GALE...but it's a TUBA. That's what my nephew plays. My sister has to listen to three horn players practicing at home, and no, she hasn't developed a case of hysterical deafness. (Speaking of HYSTERIA, that's a [Common crowd reaction in monster films].)

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "A Few Words With You"

The puzzle's title should be interpreted as "A Few Words with 'U' Added to The End": [Yogi's house?] might be HINDU QUARTERS. [Cuddly pasta sauce freebie?] is RAGU DOLL. [Ambrosia and nectar selections?] are a MENU OF GOD. "SHAMU, WOW!" is a [Literal cry at Sea World?]. That one's my favorite because it builds on the silly infomercial product name, ShamWow, which in turn plays on chamois. And the last one is FONDU MEMORIES, or ["The melted cheddar...the kitschy pots...ah, youth"?]. Hooray for cheddar! I don't do Swiss.

Given how few English words there are that end with a U, and how few of those would lend themselves to this theme (familiar word/phrase begins with U-less part of -U word), I'm impressed with this theme. The answers had some decent "aha" action. Now, the fill includes BADU, SABU, TUTU, and APU. A.P.-meets-APU has some potential. King Tut doesn't really have familiar phrases that begin with "Tut," though.

Top answers in the fill: KOJAK meets JETSKIS; WASILLA's near another W*S*L word, WEASELS; CECILIA is opposite OPHELIA. I like BAGATELLE, but feel it would best be clued as [A mere ___]. Top three clues:

• KEN is clued as [Sugar's Daddy ___ (controversial new Mattel product)]. Have you seen this guy doll? Sugar is a teeny dog, and KEN is her "daddy." He's dressed ridiculously and his name evokes the non-Mattel term "Sugar Daddy."
• THA is clued as an [Article in Source magazine?]. Not a magazine article, a definite article.
• IRAQ is an [Emancipated Middle Eastern country with no more problems]. Honest!