June 07, 2007

Friday, 6/8

NYT 5:24
Tausig 5:10
NYS 5:00
5/25 CHE 4:28
LAT 3:57
Jonesin' 3:45
CS 2:18

Reagle 8:17
WSJ 7:14

(updated 9:10 a.m. Friday)

In case anyone wonders how I can be blogging about four puzzles so soon after the New York Times puzzle is released at 9:00 (Central), it's either because I have the power to stop time or because I did the Sun, Tausig, and Jonesin' puzzles earlier in the day and wrote a few paragraphs ahead of time.

The Friday NYT by Randolph Ross has 68 words. [Helpful hint I learned from Byron Walden: To get the word count more quickly than counting all the entries or clues, take the highest number in the grid (in this case, 63) and add to it the number of squares in which both Across and Down answers start (here, five squares, those containing the numbers 1, 12, 27, 34, and 48), and voilĂ , 63 + 5 = 68.] Patrick Berry has also concocted a 68-word themeless puzzle, his for the New York Sun's Weekend Warrior. In the game of oneupsmanship (or a striving for betterment, if you prefer) that crossword constructors engage in, the difficult feat of making, say, a 56- or 60-word puzzle is much lauded. It's not as technically difficult to make a 68- to 72-word themeless, but the extra grid flexibility allows for much more lively fill and less reliance on "roll-your-own" words (those with tacked-on prefixes or suffixes, like RE-whatever, whatever-ERS, or whatever-NESS). Fresher words and phrases in the fill allow for interesting connections and more entertaining clues, and that's the combination that I like best.

In the Sun crossword, it allows Patrick the latitude to gather the ethereal (AIR GUITAR and Cheech and Chong's UP IN SMOKE), the superior (TOPMOST and STANDS ALONE), the cultural (literature, cinema, fine arts, and TV), and the card game–related (HEARTS, SPADES, and SKAT, plus the latter's soundalike, SCAT). Favorite clues: [Field for upwardly mobile types?] for AVIATION, [Checked out] for LEFT, [They work with files] for MANICURISTS, [Pile of warm clothing?] for NAP, [It's not seen in musical performances] for AIR GUITAR, [They have big tops] for ROTUNDAS, [Picture on the back, say] for TATTOO, and [It's all wet] for SEA. Other entries I liked: EDOUARD MANET, ANYHOW, and I AM NOT A CROOK.

In the NYT, the showiest, liveliest fill includes MR BOJANGLES riding atop the movie (and plane) AIR FORCE ONE, '80s New Wave pop band BANANARAMA, actor NICOLAS CAGE, and the DNA MOLECULE in the longer slots. The iffiest entry in the entire grid is BROKER'S TIP, which is a helluva lot more interesting than, say, a roll-your-own word like DENSENESS. Other highlights in the Ross puzzle: [Big shot? Hardly!] for BBS, [Film in which Ford was president] for AIR FORCE ONE (Harrison, not Gerald); LIE AWAKE; the plural RAMBOS (What distinguishes the fictional characters who can be pluralized from those who can't? We never talk about James Bonds or Winnie the Poohs.); MARY J. Blige (because a friend loves her music); [Curved nail] for TALON (not hardware!); [Victoria in London, e.g.: Abbr.] for STN (hey, we switched between Tube lines a lot at Victoria Station!); [Subject of "The Double Helix"] for DNA MOLECULE (damn you, GENETIC CODE, for fitting into the same space!); [Google heading] for MAPS (Google's mapping service kicks the butt of the online maps that preceded it); [Supreme rulers] for the noun PARAMOUNTS; [Pan, for one] for FAUN; and [Give a body check?] for OGLE. A couple clues sounded off notes to me; not sure any contemporary skater dude would exclaim AWESOME, and the [Brown with a blue pencil] is TINA Brown, who doesn't seem to be doing much editing these days.

Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader arrived via Ben's Google Groups e-mail Thursday evening, so let's slide it over here to the Friday post. You might think that after seeing two or three other finger-themed crosswords in recent months, the theme would be completely played out. And yet Ben's version ("Can You Digit?") offers a fresh take on a few of the fingers—THUMBNAIL PICTURES, cell-phone RINGTONES, and the cartoon, PINKY AND THE BRAIN. Other newfangled fill that might not be quite mainstream enough to appear together in a standard daily crossword: POM (brand of pomegranate juice in a distinctive snowman-shaped bottle, the photo-management website FLICKR (here are photos with a "crosswords" tag), and the Senegalese-American rapper AKON. SUCK would also not make it into the Times with a clue like [Word that is both a synonym and an antonym for "blow"]. Favorite clue here: [Condition evoked in many a misogynist comment] for PMS. (It is fine to say, "I'm PMSing today." It is not fine to say, "You're being difficult today. You must have PMS.")

Matt Jones' Jonesin' puzzle for this week is called "Lack of True Substance," and the theme entries are make-believe substances from the land of popular science fiction. I only knew two of them (FLUBBER and KRYPTONITE) without needing a zillion crossings to spell them out. Favorite entries and clues: the Cadillac ESCALADE (I abhor SUVs, but my kid is a huge Escalade and Hummer fan); [Bouncing off the walls] for HYPER; BLOATING as a [Possible side effect in TV drug ads] (how many of you saw this clue and first thought of PRIAPISM?); [Wild West] for MAE; BRITNEY alongside Pope JOHN PAUL; and [He wrote about a bear in the woods] for MILNE.


Busy day ahead, so quick takes on the other puzzles:

Frank Virzi (whose last name evokes one-time crossword regular Virna Lisi) constructed the May 25 Chronicle of Higher Ed puzzle. The "Historical Elements" theme involves historical terms/phrases that include the name of a metal. Alas, I was unfamiliar with two of them. Also never heard of Victorien SARDOU, who wrote the play La Tosca (Puccini based the opera Tosca on it). And the Congo River has an INGA Falls; I think "Jeopardy!" needs an Inga category that includes this and L. Frank Baum's Prince Inga in addition to whatever notable female Ingas there are.

Super-easy CrosSynergy puzzle by Martin Ashwood-Smith—the theme entries contain verbs related to making railroad tracks, but the the fill and clues are awfully easy.

Donna Levin's LA Times crossword offers a sampling of Swedish-name puns. Kinda fun! Though maybe Hamlet's Danish mother should have sat this one out. Can't she let the Swedes have the spotlight just this once? Poor Swedes.

Fun Wall Street Journal crossword by Mike Shenk (writing as "Alice Long")! "At the Ballpark Bar & Grill" groups a bunch of edible or potable items that happen to include baseball terms in their names. Smooth cluing throughout the entire puzzle, too.

Merl Reagle's Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer/LA Weekly puzzle is called "So What?" Each theme answer (and there are 13 of 'em) could finish out a spoken phrase that starts with the word "so." Despite the large number of theme entries (some short), the surrounding fill struck few false notes.