March 16, 2007

Saturday, 3/17

NYT 11:02 (ouch)
Newsday 8:28
LAT 5:48
CS 2:53

(post embiggened at 12:50 p.m. Saturday)

If you appreciate themeless challenges, don't miss Merle Baker's Newsday Saturday Stumper (and go get it before you read all the spoilers). It beat me up—if you have an easier time with it, feel free to gloat here.

The above paragraph was written shortly before I was bloodied and bruised by John Farmer's NYT crossword. John pops in here and at the NYT forum from time to time, and he always seemed so nice. But now I know: he is cruel when it comes to making themeless puzzles. Looking back at the grid, it seems so reasonable, so completely fair. Sure, the phone rang halfway through and rattled me (yes, I will let it ring if I'm mid-applet). I found so many ways to stray from the true path, particularly in the NE corner, and also the SW and SE corners; the NW corner had some unfamiliar answers, but didn't vex me as terribly as the rest of the puzzle.

Things I learned in the NYT puzzle: the National Space Society's magazine is called AD ASTRA, which is a LATin phrase; RAILBIRD is a term for a [Racetrack habitué]; Sophia Loren and Paul Newman were in a movie called LADY L; LAPLACE was a French astronomer; and a SUMPTER is a pack animal like a [Packhorse or mule].

Many great clues: the brilliantly deceptive [Masters of verse] for EDGAR LEE Masters; [An old secretary might sit in one] for ANTIQUE SHOP; [It's sometimes mined] for DATA; [Result of running off?] for XEROX COPY; woefully misleading [One of four in mythology: Abbr.] for SYL(lable); [Some Russians until the Emancipation Manifesto of 1861] for SERFS; [Conference member] for TEAM; [Roast ingredient?] for ONE-LINER; [One working on a canvas?] for BOXER; [Preserves fruit] for QUINCE; and [Dead center?] for MORTUARY.

Most vexing spots in the NW: [Line delivered before lines are delivered] for BREAK A LEG (all I could think of was cues). In the NE: [Become] for AMOUNT TO at 9-Down (tried a number of different verb phrases); drew a complete blank on Freddie LAKER and OKSANA Baiul (next to and crossing the troubled AMOUNT TO spot); spaced on UP AHEAD for [Looming in the distance]; tried BARKS AT in lieu of SNAPS AT for 14-Down; thought UNWINDS for UNREELS; blanked on author MAUPIN—I told you that whole corner killed me. In the SW: the politician's avoidance of YES OR NO. In the SE: [Potter's field?] for SORCERY (er, not CERAMIC at all) crossing SUMPTER and BOLERO (the opera clue threw me), which in turn crossed EPSOM SALT and [Fast food] BURGER (what could be more straightforward than that?).

So, John Farmer and Will Shortz: well played. Thanks for trying to shatter my confidence a week before the crossword tournament.

Either Merle Baker's Saturday Stumper was uncommonly tough, or his wavelength and mine do not intersect. Given my lack of musical training, I had no idea what LEDGER LINES were, so had the vague [Staff adjuncts] clue pointed me towards music, I still wouldn't have known that. The first letter crossed L-BAR, which Googles right to a lesbian bar. (Looks fun!) [Bores] put me in mind of everything but DIAMETERS. Fill I liked: CHRISTMASSY, CARTOONISH (with the clue [Not true to life, perhaps]), BLURTED OUT, and PASSES GO. Favorite clues: [Rappers] for CRITICS, [Mass marchers] for ALTAR BOYS, [They manage] for OVERSEERS, and ["Happy Days" actor] for BAIO (I thought of seven other actors first! Even with *AI*! Oy.) A few WTF? entries: an EDUCT is [Something drawn out], but it cannot be drawn out of many dictionaries. The answer for [Peacock blue] is the French word PAON, meaning peacock. And DYNEL seems to be more of a composite fiber than a [Synthetic fabric]. Yes, this puzzle was SCABROUS, or [Full of difficulties].


I really liked Barry C. SIlk's LA Times puzzle, which challenged me without drawing blood. I do sometimes say "HOME, JAMES" in the car when no James is present. The [Dewy-eyed quality] of STARDUST is lovely. The NW corner took the longest—who knew there was a Peoria in ARIZONA? Not I. Leo G. CARROLL was before my time, and I wanted RON Jaworski to be LEO (thinking of Watergate's LEON). Favorite clues: [Far East accord?] for HAI (Japanese for "yes"); [Cracks] for QUIPS crossing [Popped questions?] for QUIZ; [Stores in the country?] livening up ENSILES. Plenty of Scrabbly letters, with lots of Z's and V-SIX crossing ELIXIRS at the I rather than the X. Also liked the double Iranian combo of Shah REZA Pahlavi and the FARSI language.

Mel Rosen's themed CrosSynergy puzzle, "Me, Two, Two," includes five phrases in which ME appears twice. Not crazy about that as a theme idea, but the theme entries are a nice batch of phrases. And a HOT SHOWER (in the fill) always refreshes. Now that I've managed to finish a Saturday puzzle without struggling, I'd best get back to tournament training. Sheesh, only six more days?