August 31, 2007

Saturday, 9/1

NYT 16:05
LAT 6:00
CS 3:49

No cut to hide the spoilers for the Saturday post—I haven't figured out yet if Google can really see through the unexpanded post, and I don't have my SiteMeter password saved on my laptop here so I can't check. And this NYT puzzle is one that ought to be just a little more Googleable, don't you think?

I won't be doing the Newsday puzzle for Saturday because there's no printer hooked up to my laptop. Sure, my father-in-law has a computer, but it has Microsoft's Vista on it, and it's like an ugly ripoff of the Mac OS and I can't bring myself to use it.

So. The Saturday New York Times crossword, by Karen Tracey. I'm a big Karen fan in general, but this puzzle? Hated it. Too many icky crossings that relied far too much on lucky guesses or, apparently, slightly broader knowledge than I possess. Was the puzzle impossible? Why, no, of course not. A number of people finished it well ahead of me. Tough for a Saturday puzzle, sure, but not impossible. I'm just not sure it was fair, though, with names crossing names and obscure Indian musical instruments.

All right, so what's got me so cranky? First off, let's take a moment to rant about the applet technology. It's fabulous—but they have got to do something about the messed-up diacriticals. That clue, [Grammy-winning merengue singer Ta??n] is unforgiveable. Will Shortz! Please ask Peter Ritmeester to tend to this! That [___ Tom?] clue (for SAO Tomé) the other week was also unforgiveable. We're paying money to use this applet, and it's not too much to expect diacriticals to show up correctly. Woe to anyone who tries to Google the famous Ta??n—how is that pronounced, anyway?

And now for the cranky-making clues. The [Indian lute] is a SAROD. Raise your hand if you knew that one. Anyone? The D crosses [Cellist who deputed at London's Wigmore Hall at age 16], JACQUELINE DU PRE. Never heard of her. The letter sequence DUPRE is somewhat more plausible as a last name than _UPRE with any other letter, but if there's an Indian lute starting with SARO_, who's to say we're looking at only plausible answers here? I've seen [Cartoonist Segar] in crosswords before—ELZIE is the first name of Popeye cartoonist E.C. Segar. He and the above-mentioned Ta??n merengue musician, OLGA (that's Olga Tañón, I learned by searching Wikipedia for merengue olga), both cross [Shakespearean scholar Edmond], who turns out to be MALONE with the L and O from the crossing semi-obscure names. There are less inaccessible MALONEs and OLGAs out there—would've been nice to make one of them a little easier given ELZIE's relative obscurity. (By the way, if you Google Indian lute, the first hits give you sitar and dotar before you get to sarod. All 5 letters long!)

In the top right corner, we've got a somewhat arbitrary [Size in a lingerie shop], C CUP, which could be A through G, really—and at first I was thinking that lingerie shop had petite sizes like TWO P and SIX P, which didn't do me any favors at all. Below that is [Basse-Normandie department]—who doesn't love those 4-letter French departments? All one can do (barring in-depth French geography knowledge) is wait for the crossings to tell us which one it is. Guess what? There are 11 4-letter departments in France. This time it was ORNE (not OISE or AUBE or AUDE or the others). The next one down is [2004-06 poet laureate Kooser and others]—that'd be TEDS. Below that is [Fluffy, perhaps] for HOUSE PET. Not HOUSECAT. And not an adjective meaning "fluffy." Yes, that corner was also problematic for me. "Surely the long Down clues crossing those were of enormous help?" you ask. Well, the other Acrosses below HOUSE PET also eluded me. There's good old JACQUELINE DU PRE, of course, as well as OZARK the airline, REED clued as [Fen bender] (because, I guess, a reed bends in the breeze and grows in a fen), and the tricky [Holders of shoulders: Abbr.] for RDS (too confusing, what with the C CUP bra and the phrase "over-the-shoulder boulder holder"!).

Getting past the sour taste from those two corners, what did I like? POINDEXTER as the [Stereotypical nerd] is terrific. [Squirts] the noun = TOTS. [Tears] could mean a zillion things other than RACES. PLAN B is a good [Backup] for contraceptive mishaps. [It'll knock you out after you knock it back] is MICKEY FINN (as in "slipped him a Mickey")—easy enough, clever enough. [Cautious people stay on it] = SAFE SIDE—also easy enough. AVAST MATEY is clued [Salt halter]. [Knot] is the vague but dead-on clue for ENIGMA. HE/SHE is the [Inclusive pronoun], differing in only one letter from HESSE, [Where the Fulda flows]. The [Expensive choice for a commuter], GAS GUZZLER, and ["Madame Butterfly," updated], MISS SAIGON, made a great pair of stacked entries—but they didn't help me quite enough with that perfect storm of names. I love SHAZAM, but the '70s kiddie show superhero sort of SHAZAM, not the [Gomer Pyle expletive]. Wrong decade for me, alas. In the corner above SHAZAM, the long entries of COTE D'AZUR, CREPE PAPER on the pi?ata (OK, piñata), and UNDETERRED eventually found their way into the grid, but not soon enough to make the TEDS and ORNE party come together easily.

What's your verdict? Eminently fair but tough, or kinda unfair with the intensity of "you know it or you don't" names mingling together in a mosh pit of empty squares?


Ha! There I was, working my way through Robert Wolfe's LA Times puzzle (thanks to Jeff A. for the hook-up), when I encountered the clue [Blogger's entry, maybe], 4 letters. Eventually the crossings revealed it to be RANT. "Wait, that's not fair. I rarely write a post that could be considered a... Never mind." Yes, I ranted above. It's true. This paragraph will be unranty, however. Three 15-letter entries here: the very colloquial STOP YOUR WHINING (["Grow up!"]) and FOR GOODNESS' SAKE (["GEE WHIZ!"]) bracketing the slightly less colloquial but still lovely INESCAPABLE FACT ([Reality that must be faced]). Throw in SLOWPOKES and WOULD-BE and a [Cutie pie] TOOTS (though TOOTS is so retro and sounds like it's meant for an old broad—please do not call me "Toots"), the candidate's WAR CHEST and ALL ALONE. The [Ministerial office] called a PASTORATE is a tad dry. Other clues of note: [It's right before a landing] for the LAST STEP; [Keys on the keys] for pianist ALICIA Keys; [Word with do or to] for HOW; [Common antacid] for BAKING SODA (does anyone use this remedy?); [Flirted with] for the idiomatic MADE EYES AT; [Leeds livers?] for BRITS (those who live in Leeds); [It had the same chassis as a Grand Am] for the Oldsmobile ALERO (a new clue for an extinct car!); [Small hair piece] for LASH; ELISHA [Cook who played Wilmer in "The Maltese Falcon"]; ["Mr. Lonely" singer] for Bobby VINTON ("the Polish prince"!); [Quarreled] for SPATTED (yes, spat is a present-tense verb); and [Damaging sound?] for SOFT G.

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle has a "Cleaning Day" theme with phrases that begin with kinds of cleaning jobs (e.g., VACUUM BOTTLE, MOP-UP DUTY). A number of cute clues: [One for the road?] for CAR; [Level edges] for ELS; [Phone call at 3:00 a.m., sometimes] for BAD NEWS (well, that's not so much cute as accurate); [Went 0 for 50, say] for SLUMPED; and the never-heard-that-one-before ["Holy jumping catfish!"] for EGAD. I'm not up on things like [Computer language iteration], or DO LOOP, which is apparently also called a do while loop.