September 08, 2007

Sunday, 9/9

NYT 9:28
WaPo 9:00ish
PI 8:42
LAT 8:39
BG 7:09
CS 5:25

Wow, I'm tired. Let's do the math: 2 hours in the car + 2 hours at a kid party + 4 hours in a house full of kids + 2 more hours in the car = zonked out.

In the Sunday New York Times puzzle, "Process of Elimination," Patrick Berry compiles a set of words and phrases that contain each of their letters twice, except for one stand-alone letter. Somehow, he found a set that could fit into symmetrical spots in the grid while still allowing the stand-alone letters to form an apt word when read from top to bottom. SORE LOSER at 25-Across loses the duplicated S, O, R, and E, and starts the mystery word with its L. Then ANTIPERSPIRANTS retains a solitary E, HATCHET FACE an F, HARD-HEARTED a T, IF THE SHOE FITS an O, DRIVER'S SIDE a V, SHE'S ALL THAT another E, HIPPOCRATIC OATH an R, and NO OFFENSE an S: LEFTOVERS. Well now, that couldn't fit together any more perfectly, could it? The process of elimination is explained in the clue for TWICE at 127-Across.

Moving past the stellar theme, I traveled slowly. I hadn't made sense of the theme until after I finished solving (and untied the part of my brain that interpreted the instructions as "cross out any letter that appears twice in each clue," so when I came across the clue that read [Their priority is number one], well, I had elimination processes in mind and that didn't help in the slightest. (EGOTISTS, not WHIZZERS, say). I also got mired at the beginning, where I opted for MOROSE over MOPISH and tried STOOP in lieu of STUPE to see if that would help, and ignoring the "on" in the clue [Put the touch on], I wanted HIT ON in place of HIT UP. And before that, I cast Claire DANES in the Kirsten DUNST part in Marie Antionette, and you can't tell me you've never mixed them up. It's time now for my obligatory condemnation of "coeds" used as a noun. [Former coeds, maybe] for ALUMNAE? Boo, hiss! If you're putting the "maybe" in the clue, just call 'em [Former collegians, maybe] and let the solver decide if they're male ALUMNI, gender-neutral ALUMNI, or—what do you know, the only one that fits—ALUMNAE. It's trickier that way and it doesn't piss off feminist-minded individuals. I would like to be a DAB HAND at crosswords, but if we're talking about English cryptics to accompany the British usage, then I am no dab hand. (This book I picked up in London is kicking my ass.)


Bob Klahn's on deck for today's themeless CrosSynergy puzzle. Yay! The puzzle's of middling difficulty but has some first-rate fill and clues. When 1-Across kicks in with DEF LEPPARD, a crossword rocks. (A friend of mine just saw the band in concert—with Styx and Foreigner, ach!—and reports that yes, Def Leppard still has the one-armed drummer banging the skins. Though I still must deplore the insane spelling.) The Faulkner character many of us recognize only from crosswords gets promoted to first/last name treatment: EULA VARNER sits beneath DEF LEPPARD. A grill skewer is a BROCHETTE. [Debris in a swell place?] is FLOTSAM (who doesn't love the words flotsam and jetsam?). The only redeeming facet of the movie Footloose, in my book, is the DENIECE Williams song, "Let's Hear It for the Boy," in which "maybe he's no Romeo" is rhymed with "he's my lovin' one-man show." Why do I have a soft spot for that song? It's inexplicable. Throw in a MADE MAN, MAENADS ([Dionysian attendants]), the HAMBONE (watch hoops coach Bo Ryan demonstrate a rather restrained hambone for you), and [John Huston's final film], THE DEAD (based on the James Joyce story), and that's some mighty fine fill. Other clues I liked: [Twaddle] for ROT; [Distinctive] for RARE; the verb phrase [Better clues?] for EDIT; [Southern California basket maker] is a LAKER, not a Native American; [Get into a habit, say] for DRESS; [Kind of warrior] for WEEKEND (hmm, another "kind of" clue that ought to be converted into a fill-in-the-blank clue, though that'd make it easy, not clever); and the judicial/basketball trio of [Before the bar] for ON TRIAL, [Court position] for GUARD, and [Court petition] for PLEA. Out-of-left-field word: DEBOUCH, meaning [March out into the open].

Jack McInturff's syndicated LA Times puzzle, "Si Si," has eight two-word theme entries with C.C. initials. Two great misleads in the clues: [Chest protectors] for BIBS, not RIBS, and [Old timer] for SUNDIAL. There's some zip with [Fonzie's cousin] CHACHI and ANTIMONY (clued as [Element that can harden lead], which is tied with tungsten for the best element name and seems like a better word for "alimony" than alimony itself. The zip's offset by LEY = [Kind of pewter] (the kind mixed with too much lead to be safe for dishes) in a section with BLEARED and BEMIRE, HAO = [Vietnamese coin] in a section where PHOEBES are [Small flycatchers], and EMALL = [Where surfers shop]—E-ow.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle, "It's D-Lightful," adds a D sound to the end of some phrases to alter their meaning. My favorite of the examples: [Wagnerian robot?], SIEGFRIED ANDROID, playing on Siegfried and Roy, of course. One theme entry made no sense: TATTLETALE GRADE. What's with this tattletale gray? It means "white tinged with gray; grayish white." As in hair? Where does the tattling come into play?

Frances Burton's Washington Post puzzle, "Home Builder's Whodunit," lets a tale unfold quasi-Tom-Swiftishly through the theme entries, playing with idiomatic phrases that tangentially relate to home-building trades. E.g., [The plumber's alibi] HELD WATER, and [They suspected the cement mason but had] NOTHING CONCRETE. In the fill of this puzzle, UNLOOSEN looked completely wrong for the clue [Set free]. Isn't something tightened when it's unloosened? But apparently this is an established word, however ill-advised. (This reminds me of boxes that are "still unpacked," as the Language Loggers have discussed before.)

Speaking of the Washington Post, the paper is pinching pennies and will discontinue its own Sunday crossword next spring. The Post will instead run Merl Reagle's puzzle, so one crossword editor, Fred Piscop, is out of a gig. Constructors are losing an outlet for selling Sunday-sized puzzles, and losing the chance to work with Fred—one constructor once told me working with Fred was "a hoot." Inveterate solvers are gaining back some time on Sundays, but losing a fun source of crosswords. Boo, hiss to the Washington Post! Don't they know crosswords are hot right now? Why, Merv's Griffins Crosswords starts airing on Monday! (And I'll be getting that DVR on Friday morning, so I'll only miss the first four days' worth.)

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer puzzle bundles together 11 people whose names include the letters MORE or LESS. They're all clued as being unsatisfied. What, no Goldilocks finding something that's just right, only a bunch of whiners who want more or less?

I want to do the diagramless, this weekend's NYT Second Sunday puzzle, but it's not printing out for some reason. Bah.