May 08, 2007

Wednesday, 5/9

My turn. John Farmer here for the day, and all in all a fine day it is. Puzzles from the N.Y. papers from a Patrick and a Patrick (always a good name to see), and from the alt-puz world from a Tausig and a Heaney (likewise and likewise).

One quick comment before getting to the puzzles of the day: I am happy to be a small part of this growing online crossword community, which I think is one of the cooler things to happen in the world of puzzles in recent years. I honestly can't imagine what people did in decades past. Write a letter to the editor? How pre-Millennial. Today it's a daily habit: Do a few puzzles, check the blogs, the forum, lurk or fire off an opinion, see what people say. As a solver, I'm glad to know I have company. As an occasional constructor, I am glad to have the valuable feedback. It wasn't always like this. But the Fiend and sites like this are here today, and that's a great thing.

Regarding times: Al will be posting his in comments, but for anyone that needs to know, on these four puzzles, mine ranged from about 8 minutes (Times) to almost 20 (a tougher than normal Tausig).

On to the puzzles (and spoilers).

N.Y. Times by Patrick Merrell

So the question is, If you were stranded on a desert island and could have one and only one crossword puzzle with you, whose would it be? Many good choices out there, and you couldn’t go wrong with a bunch of them, but I might just have to go with Patrick Merrell. He creates tough puzzles, easy ones, and everything in between, but more than anything he has stretched the limits of what a crossword puzzle can be. I especially like those off-the-wall Thursday-type puzzles, and Patrick has made more than a few classics that I’d rank among my favorites over the years.

This is Wednesday, of course, and today Patrick offers a quote/quip puzzle, with the always quotable Winston Churchill supplying the wit. It was especially helpful of the prime minister to describe a fanatic in words that fit the symmetrical needs of a grid: ONE WHO CAN’T / CHANGE HIS MIND / AND WON’T CHANGE / THE SUBJECT.

I know that HIS in the middle there isn’t exactly gender-neutral by today’s standards, but considering the subject I doubt women will complain much. (Maybe men will.)

Solving a quote puzzle I think it’s best to work the Downs first, especially on the computer. That may be good advice for most puzzles, in fact, but I don’t profess to be an expert. I am certainly not a SPEED DEMON, 11-D. [Leadfoot] is the clue, though “Amy or Al” would also have worked. The Down fill here is quite fresh, with entries like ALL DAY LONG, FOOTREST, LAWMAN, and OLD HAT (which is clued [Commonplace] and thankfully doesn’t live up to its billing). I was happy to see Fritz LANG, director of the silent masterpiece Metropolis (some of those old classic films seem like some old classic books, ones people praise but never see or read).

Like everything in the grid, the clues are all rock solid and right where they should be for Wednesday difficulty. I rather liked the SAP clue [Not the brainiest sort], and the one for HAIG [Alexander who said “I’m in control here”]. ONO gets fresh treatment (always a challenge) with [“Lead ___ King Eternal” (hymn)]. No, that’s not Yoko.

Sun Puzzle by Patrick Blindauer, “Mishmosh Pit”

They must have had a 2-for-1 sale down at the X store, because Patrick has a boatload of them in his puzzle today: EXXON, TEX-MEX, EX-LAX. And that’s just some of the fill.

The theme is a musical one, in a funny sort of way, though Gene KRUPA, Paul ANKA, and the EDGE get to play only straight men. The jokes are in the instruments (except SAX, who must have missed the memo that this was a masquerade). After getting the mishmosh treatment, I’m not sure I’ll be listening to them on my iPod. The "harmonica" isn’t sounding very harmonious when it’s HARM MONICA [Hurt a “Friends” character?]. How about the DULL SIMMER [Boring cooking method?]? Not for la dolce vita. The OWE BEAUS [Have bills from boyfriends] are playing a sad song, and the TUBE BUZZ [Gossip on TV?] are performing for couch potatoes. A couple of other contorted instruments round out the orchestra. Go ahead: strike up the band!

It’s actually a tight theme and there’s plenty of it, but room enough for some lively fill. NINJA, BARBQ, JURY, MARX, TREX, and CHEX are old standbys and always welcome. Some names appear that we don’t see too often: I knew the “Amazing” KRESKIN, but whiffed on the playwright Paul OSBORN. I vaguely remember At Ease on my parents’ bookshelf years ago, and DDE came easy. [Wisconsin Badgers football coach Bielema], on the other hand, made me wonder, Who? It turns out the man has coached exactly 13 games in his college career, but 12 of those were wins, which set a record last year for rookie coaches in the Big Ten and tied the record for the NCAA. So now I can say, Oh, that Coach Bielema! His name is BRET.

Not a day goes by without a crossword puzzle somewhere with a Simpsons reference. This time it’s good ol’ ABE, Lisa’s paternal grandfather. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the [Contents of a diaper bag packet] but was relieved to see it was only WIPES. Ditto with [Result of a peen to the bean], which not only rhymes but makes perfect sense for LUMP. Just do it with somebody else, if you don’t mind.

I don’t recall seeing GEL PEN before, and here’s your fun fact of the day: Gel pen ink does not dissolve and therefore resists laboratory analysis to match the manufacturer and year with the International Ink Library maintained by the U.S. Secret Service. Remember that next time you’re writing a ransom note.

I liked [Lower in the country?] for COW, and my favorite of all, [Mass-produced answer?]. The answer: AMEN.


Ink Well Puzzle by Ben Tausig, “Developing Negatives”

Monday in comments Al said that the cluing in Tausig puzzles (among others) forced him to stop and think more often. He got that right. This week, especially. More about the clues in a moment. First, the theme.

The title hints that it’s a play on photography in some way, and I had much of the grid done before I figured it out, in the SE, with SNOBWALL [Place for the arrogant to etch their names?] lighting the bulb for me. So, the B and W are trading places, as in photo negatives where the black and white are reversed. That help took me back to the NW, where “backward” had become WACKBARD [Lame poet?]. In the middle of the grid, a little tricky with just one other switched B&W (not two, if like me you were looking for another), shared across two 12-letter entries: BEAR THE PANTS and GARLIC WREATH. I like that last one, a fine way to get rid of garlic breath (beware the cabs of Beijing, Olympics fans) and keep Dracula at bay too.

Ben gives the puzzle the usual Tausig touch. ANAL is clued [Detail-oriented, to say the least]. One of my favorite putdowns, NUTJOB [Crackpot], though not in my dictionary, ought to be. GWAR is the kind of fill that’ll have you doubting Marvin Gaye (G, WAR is the answer).

Back to the B&W for a final note or two. I found extra puzzlement in solving the puzzle because Ben goes negative in the clues too. The clue “Wee child” becomes [Bee child] and instead of, say, “tween,” the answer is TOT. First thought: what’s up with that? [Wattery size] almost makes sense for AAA, and [Open a wit] sounds almost right for AJAR. A puzzle like this, if you don’t pull your hair out, can be a lot of fun.

Extra credit if you notice the Bs and Ws switched in the four theme entries are the only Bs and Ws in the grid.

Bord, Wen.

Onion A.V. Club Puzzle by Francis Heaney

More Bs to wax on about here. Five Bs, in fact, added to five phrases that B-come something else. “Roach clips” turns into BROACH CLIPS [Bring up the subject of ammo?]. “Covered one’s ass” turns into COVERED ONE’S BASS. You get the idea. Good for you if you knew that PIMP MY BRIDE was a reference to the MTV show “Pimp My Ride” (new to me but it sounds like a cross of “Extreme Makeover” and “My Mother, the Car”).

Francis is never shy with hip and pop-cult references, and this puzzle has OODLES of them, from Amy Winehouse’s REHAB (do like that song!) to N.W.A’s EAZY-E. BUD gets clued [Smoked part]. I don’t recall seeing that in the N.Y. Times. No complaints here.

On behalf of fellow guest bloggers Barry and Linda G, however, I will raise objection to a couple of clues. [The CLXXVIIth prime number] for MLI? That we might have to call a “heinous Heanyism” for reasons that hardly need explanation. And [Timberlake ex Cameron] for DIAZ is a shining example of the “male ex-complex syndrome” if ever there was one.

Just be glad that the Fiend herself is out of the country. You can imagine what she’d say about the [Insult hurled at a boring Jerry Springer guest?] that is BLAND HO.

My time on this was a little quicker than on Ben’s, and I was having a fine time until I hit 32-D, confidently entering “word usage” instead of WEB DESIGN for [Skill involving style sheets]. That trap almost seemed intentional. Ouch, and I mean that in the best way.