September 07, 2007

Saturday, 9/8

NYT 6:18
Newsday 3:59
LAT 3:43
CS 2:24

Brendan Emmett Quigley constructed a three-in-one puzzle for the Saturday New York Times: the grid's basically three short, wide puzzles stacked up, with END-ZONE SEAT alone joining them together. It's got a mighty low word count—just 62 answers, only 19 of 'em in the Across orientation, and seven of those 19 are 15 letters long. I wasn't besotted with the long entries, but then it's not a grid that can easily accommodate much Scrabbliness.

I didn't find too many gimmes in this one, but it didn't flummox me like last weekend's themeless NYT crosswords did. I had no idea what the [African city with famed botanical gardens] was, but here are the ENTEBBE Botanical Gardens; when I hear the city's name, I always think of the 1977 TV movie. The [Riddle ender] is WHAT AM I; the answer, of course, is chopped liver. [Yosemite setting] is SIERRAS, though Wyoming tempted me with its 7 letters. If, like me, you don't know what a TENNESSEE WALKER ([It has a fast, easy gait]) looks like, cast your jaundiced orbs on this video; those horses look silly, if you ask me. Perhaps the best clue in this puzzle is [Marxist quality?] for ZANINESS, as in those zany Marx Brothers. The vague [Dish with tomato sauce] is a SPANISH OMELETTE. I took a guess on the first letter in [Like Dacron]; CREASE-RESISTANT could have had to do with grease, but I figured the Spanish [Dry, in Durango] would be akin to the French sec so SECO made more sense than sego. (More Spanish: ESTAR is a [Spanish 101 verb]; SERT was a Spanish architect; ESAI Morales who [played Bob in "La Bamba," 1987], is of Puerto Rican descent; and the trio ZZ Top had a record called "TRES Hombres.") I wanted chin straps to be the [Football helmet features], but they're EAR HOLES (speaking of ear holes, behold!). The question mark in [One working for a flat fee?] tips us off to the flat = apartment trick, and it's a REAL ESTATE AGENT. Where is SAO TOME? It's an [Island just north of the Equator] that's nestled in the armpit of Western Africa, by which I mean the continental contour that looks like an underarm, casting no aspersions.

Moving along to the Down side, raise your hand if you leapt at TUXES for [Wedding rentals] instead of the correct TENTS, reasoning that BEQ likes to use the letter X. Here's ERNIE [Davis, first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy] in 1961; never heard of him. After far too many ALLA/[___ breve] appearances, it's nice to see BREVE take the lead; it's a double whole note. My friend Kristin would've known instantly that the [PBS station behind Charlie Rose] was WNET; I did not. [Square in a steam room] is TILE rather than AWKWARD NAKED GUY. [Reverse movement of a sort] is PURL, the movement being in knitting rather than sports. ATOMS are [Things hypothesized by Democritus]; all right, I'll take your word for it. [Canine line] tried to trick me into thinking dentally, but the answer is LEASH.

Crossword chestnuts in this puzzle: ESSIE from Ah, Wilderness!; NEHI, clued afresh as a [Cadbury Schweppes brand]; a new ETTA, [Editorial cartoonist Hulme] (link shows one of her creations this week); STEN, an antique answer clued as [Antique gun]. With the clue [Some moldings], could the answer have been anything but OGEES? If you've worked up to doing the Saturday crossword, you ought to know all of these names (though this ETTA's a new one—usually we get Etta James or Etta Place).

I know hotshot constructors like to challenge themselves and see how far they can push the format, but as I've said before, I really do prefer a less ambitious grid with more surprising answers and tortuous clues.


Frederick Healy's 72-word LA Times puzzle is, like the Newsday puzzle below, fairly easy for a themeless. Lively fill includes the childhood game MOTHER MAY I, the Scrabbly XEROX COPY and MINT JELLY, SAYS UNCLE, and the combo of the GINSU knife and AS SEEN ON TV. Favorite clues: [Playing games, so to speak] for DEVIOUS; [10th inning counterparts, briefly] for OTS; [Legendary swimmer] for SEA MONSTER (Mark Spitz and Gertrude Ederle were the wrong length); [Role-playing game] pulling Dungeons & Dragons nerds outside to play MOTHER MAY I; and the simple [Lay] for UNORDAINED. I think of NAN as Indian food, but Wikipedia says it's also eaten in Iran, which qualifies it as [Mideast bread]. I'd never heard of Swedish actress ESSY Persson; apparently she starred in some softcore Swedish porn in the '60s.

Daniel Stark's Newsday Saturday Stumper was mighty easy for a Saturday themeless. It's got 72 words, and a Starkesque grid that's heavy on the 7-letter answers. Favorite clues: [Plum relative] for MAGENTA the color, not APRICOT the fruit; [Pick a ticket] for VOTE (when I was home from college back in the day and drove my friend home at 2 in the morning, I rolled through a stop sign and was speeding on account of there being no other traffic around...except for that cop who pulled me over. "Pick a ticket," he said. Speeding or running the stop sign, my choice. That was my last moving violation.); [Pretentious talk] for BOMBAST (great word); and [It began as AuctionWeb in '95] for EBAY (did not know that!). I might have preferred tangier clues for words like WEDGIE (here, [Shoe style]—why not [Locker-room torment]?), REAR-ENDS (here, [Rams, perhaps]—why not the vague [Seats] leading to a small "hee hee" moment of juvenile glee?), ROUTINE (here, [Unremarkable]—why not [Gymnastics sequence], say?), and ARTICLE (here, [Item]—why not [Tabloid feature] or [Magazine part]?).

Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy puzzle has zip to it (A flying WALLENDA! The KAMA Sutra! OPIUM and PTOLEMY! Audi QUATTROS!) but reminded me of early-week Newsday puzzles of the kind we saw Al Sanders whipping through in Wordplay (coming to PBS October 16): easy as can be, with a straightforward theme. The theme in this case is ___ coats, where the theme entries begin with the ___ words. It is kinda fun to fly through a crossword without hitting any slow spots.